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Go With the Flow

Phil Asquith finds community, happiness and a low-stress lifestyle among the decades-old groves of Ojai Olive Oil.

By Leslie A. Westbrook

Photo by Mariana Schulze

Philip Asquith among the groves of Ojai Olive Oil. The Andalusian, Provençale and Tuscan olive varietals produce award-winning oils that range from mild and fruity to sharp and peppery.

 

here’s EVOO (extra virgin olive oil, for those who have been living under an acronym rock); VOO (virgin olive oil) and OO (regular olive oil). Then there is the award-winning OOO — Ojai Olive Oil, which comes from a beautiful Ojai property tucked peacefully on Ladera Road in the valley’s picturesque east end.

Big changes have been quietly taking place at Ojai Olive Oil. Doyenne Alice de Dadelsen Asquith is passing the baton to her son, Phil. The barn and tasting room are now open seven days a week, with free tours and tastings on weekends and Wednesdays. Visitors can picnic at tables and admire a grove of very old and stately Spanish varietal olive trees planted over a century ago on the land.

What’s also new and noteworthy is that the Swiss-born 40-year-old, who lives with his girlfriend Marleny Aleman (who works in fashion) and their two rescue wolves, Bodhi and Sasha, in a house on the land above the cozy bowl of a valley where the ranch is situated, has forged relationships with surrounding landowners who share an interest in a more cooperative way of life. Four contiguous properties share water and roads with the 50-acre Asquith family property. Projects aimed at bringing the neighborhood offgrid for water and power are underway, including the creation of a large central pond. Self-sufficiency is important to Phil, who hopes to set an example from which others might learn.

“I am into community building and self-sufficiency,” says Phil, who grew up in Europe as part of a musical family, “Our neighbors are leading permaculture educators, East End Eden. There is an increasing trend of people choosing lifestyle over wealth, and health and happiness over the chase of a greater possible lifestyle down the road.” 

It’s been a circuitous journey for the entrepreneur. He studied molecular biology and theoretical physics at Pomona College, considered medical school but made a U-turn and went into investment banking and formed a hedge fund. He founded Green Monkey, a chain of yoga studios throughout southern Florida. Phil returned to California and started a company in the hemp industry called Green Gorilla. When his father fell ill, he came back to Ojai and began taking over day-to-day operations at Ojai Olive Oil. 

“I’ve been here for every pressing, which takes place in the fall, but moved back about six years ago,” the tall, lanky olive oil producer told me as we strolled the grounds. 

This year, due to the rains, 4,000-5,000 gallons of olive oil are expected. In its first year of business, 20 years ago, Ojai Olive Oil produced just 1,000 bottles from a few hundred gallons of oil. The company only presses fruit for its own product (not for others), but it also purchases certified organic olives from other local farmers, including several neighbors in the east end of Ojai. “If a neighbor works with us to plant varieties we approve of, and grows their olive trees organically, we will buy 100 percent of their crop ongoing,” Phil noted.

Ancient, stately Lechin de Sevilla olive trees — planted in the 1800s and abandoned for nearly a century after the previous owner’s house burned down in a fire — still produce fruit and should continue to do so for centuries, if not millennia.

“We’re the first family to live here and cultivate them again since the early 1800s. I love the fact that these trees are still young — they can live over 10,000 years!” Phil enthused. 

Phil explained, as we sat surrounded by the Spanish varietals, the differences in the trees. The oil from Andalusian olives has a sharp, strong flavor. Provençale olive trees, from France, produce a mild oil. The Italian Tuscan oil is green and peppery. All have won awards, in local competitions, such as the Ventura County Fair, and on the international stage, such as the New York International Olive Oil Competition.

“My mom is stepping back and I’m taking over all operations full time. For over 20 years I’ve been involved to varying degrees, but never 100 percent in, until now,” Phil said. “I’ve spent recent years working on a way to view and operate the business differently, such that the process is enjoyable and low-stress, and not a drain on my resources and health. Ultimately that’s meant sacrificing substantial income and wealth for a lifestyle that’s happy and healthy. And recognizing that the sacrifice there is really a great one, and a better choice for my life.”

The gentleman farmer, who studied and learned to play oboe, cello, recorder and piano in his youth, still plays a grand piano in his home and recently attended the Ojai Music Festival with 20 friends who picnicked on the lawn at Libbey Bowl.

“My generation was raised to believe that a person works and works and works, in order to make a lot of money — and then enjoy your life,” Phil says. “More people are tossing that notion aside, and choosing to enjoy the whole journey, not just focused on the end destination. I’m living the good life now! The trade-offs are clear and I’m happy with the choice. I’ve never been healthier or happier, and I feel like my other dreams have come much more clearly into focus since I stopped chasing wealth alone.” 

Ojai Olive Oil
1811 Ladera Road, Ojai
805.646.5964
www.ojaioliveoil.com 

 

The Asquith Ranch follows permaculture farming practices to keep the olive orchard — which contains trees more than a century old — healthy and productive.

07-01-2017

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