Theodora Stephan, founder and owner of Global Gardens in Los Olivos, says olives are in her blood. She planted her first trees in 1997. (Raiza Georgi / Noozhawk photo)

Growing up in a Greek family, Theodora Stephan spent most of her childhood at gatherings surrounded by family and food.

So it’s only fitting she became an olive farmer in the town of Los Olivos, meaning “the olives,” and is celebrating 15 years with her brand, Global Gardens.

“I grew up in the Greek tradition where we were always at parties and eating Greek food. I quite possibly have olive oil running through my blood,” Stephan laughed.

She was born and raised in Dayton, Ohio, and went to school to be a graphic designer. She worked at an advertising agency, and when she was 25 made her first visit to California. 

“Whenever I got in trouble when I was a kid, I would yell at my mom I was running away to California,” she said. “It was crazy but I felt like I should be here.” 

Stephan began coming to California often when she landed Universal Studios for a client in the early 1990s, and frequently would rent a car and take weekend trips to different towns.

The first time Stephan came to Los Olivos, her car ran out of gas and she had to be pushed to the gas station on Grand Avenue. As she filled up, she grabbed a local real estate magazine and knew she had found her home.

She bought a ranch in Los Alamos in 1996, and commuted from Los Angeles until she sold her advertising firm in 2001. 

Stephan decided she wanted to have an olive farm, and in 1997 planted 2,000 olive trees, 500 of those being Koroneiki trees from Greece.

The olive tree was so important, it even has its own creation myth.

According to Greek mythology, it was a gift from the goddess Athena. In order to win the patronage of Athens, she thrust her lance into the soil and turned it into an olive tree as  a gift to mankind.

“The first time I went to Greece, I was shocked at how similar the terrain and climate was to Los Olivos,” she said. 

These trees are so hearty and tough they can withstand extremes of both heat and cold, which is perfect especially in times of drought such as now, Stephan added.  

Global Gardens in Los Olivos offers a variety of products tied to its olive farms. (Raiza Georgi / Noozhawk photo)

Olive trees begin blooming in the spring; this year was rare because some of Stephan’s trees started in February.

It doesn’t take much water to sustain healthy olive trees — roughly six gallons per week — and she stops watering them during autumn so they set their fruit. 

Olive trees can be fickle, and while it typically takes around 10 years to garner a nice yield of olives, some trees can produce 100 pounds while others less than 20. Stephan said it takes about 40 pounds of fruit to make a gallon of olive oil. 

In 2005, she found her current location in Los Olivos and moved with her two daughters, Anita and Sunita. She still harvests the ranch in Los Alamos along with other olive orchards encompassing 10,000 trees per year and about 10 varietals, all by hand. 

“Harvest days are always my favorite because the trees give off this pheromone that to me is intoxicating, and maybe it’s my Greek background, but I love every minute of it,” she said. 

Stephan picks the trees after wine grape harvest because she uses the same crews. She has a stone press that comes to which ever orchard she is harvesting so she presses the fruit straight after it’s picked. 

“I have the luxury now to harvest by varietal as opposed to when I first started all at once because I didn’t have a lot of trees then,” Stephan said. 

Only her Olio Nuovo olive oil is bottled straight away while the other flavors and blends she offers age until the next spring.

Stephan prides herself that her extra virgin olive oil tests far below the maximum acidity of .08 percent — resulting around .025 percent. 

Stephan constructed a tasting facility on her property in Los Olivos where visitors can sample her different flavors of olive oils, vinegars and other products she offers made from olive oil such as soap, shampoo and lotions. 

“I love supporting local businesses and Theo’s olive oils make great hostess gifts,” said Brenda Clausen of Tustin, Ca. “Even though I don’t live here anymore, I always make it a point to stop by when I am in town.” 

Stephan visits local schools to tell children about how to grow an olive tree. She also has informational videos of her harvest on her website as well as a cookbook using her products and recipes. 

“I am all for educating people about olives and olive oils. I am currently getting a permaculture certificate, and I plan on hosting cooking classes,” she said. 

For more information on Global Gardens log onto, or visit the tasting facility Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at 2450 Alamo Pintado Ave. in Los Olivos.

— Raiza Giorgi is a Noozhawk contributing writer from the Santa Ynez Valley. She can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.