Karen and Lindsay Grosswendt package bucolic sunshine in jars.
However different they might at first appear, this mother-daughter team has one essential thing in common: Both women thrive in nature. It nourishes them, body and soul.
Karen spent most of her life as a mother and avid gardner, eschewing her early interests in landscape architecture for guiding the family. She cultivated that love of the outdoors in her daughter, Lindsay, who—despite a deep connection with all things green—found her calling as a fashion stylist in New York City.
Ultimately, Lindsay began to realize the value of returning to California to spend time with her family, just as her mother began harvesting extra virgin olive oil from their two-acre orchard. Upon tasting the first spoonful, the younger Grosswendt had a vision for building a company around the product. And, so, Central Coast Family Farm’s extra virgin olive oil was born.
Now, the two women discuss being inspired by the great outdoors and following their dreams:
Live The Process: Did either of you ever imagine that you’d be living on a farm and making olive oil?
Karen Grosswendt: I had sometimes envisioned living a more slow-paced life and was drawn to the romantic idea of living on a farm, but I never realistically thought I would do it—even if our farm is a tiny plot of land.
My mother’s maiden name was Oliver, and she and her family were part of the “Dust Bowl” migrants who left Oklahoma for California. Growing up and hearing stories from my aunts and uncles (my mother was the youngest of nine) made that idea of living on a farm sound desirable. Since the family name was Oliver, growing olives always had a place in my heart. Producing extra virgin olive oil tugged at my love of history and food.
Lindsay Grosswendt: Being in nature is something that was encouraged daily by my folks: My daily after-school routine involved playing in the yard, helping out in the garden and taking hikes at surrounding state parks. To this day, I am extremely attached to seeing plants mature, finding ways to lend a hand within any garden and, most importantly, surrounding myself with nature whenever possible.
The only thing is, I’ve been living in New York City as a stylist for the past ten years. I have never been more physically removed from the nature with which I grew up. I make the best of the situation, trying to be engulfed in greenery as much as possible daily, while living in the city. Working on this project together is new for me and my mom. I may have a gardening guru as a mother, but we are still learning every day, in so many ways, which makes it fun and addictive.
LTP: How did you each come to start making olive oil?
KG: I have mainly been a stay-at-home mom, but I did study history at UC Santa Barbara and some landscape architecture at UCLA Extension. I worked for approximately six years at a landscape architecture firm actually, and my favorite part of the job was plant selection and design installation. And then I “retired” or basically just focused on my family. During that time, I started a garden in Malibu Lake within the Santa Monica Mountain Range. In 2008, my husband and I bought our small farm property in Templeton, California. We planted the trees in 2012. Our first harvest and milling was 2015.
LG: When the conversation of planting olive trees emerged in our household, it inspired an immediate, yes! “Yes” to a family project and a definite “yes” to seeing my mom happy in the garden. At the time we planted the trees, I was living in New York City and fully consumed with fashion styling. Unfortunately, I had limited time in the beginning stages to help out as much as I wished. Going back every couple months gave me a sense of peace, away from my daily fashion industry routine.
I began styling when I was 17 years old on sets in Hollywood and, by the time we planted our trees, I had already been working in the fast-paced industry for seven years. I was nowhere near slowing down. Being fortunate enough to escape to the farm whenever possible felt like an unforeseen gift. These trips organically raised my sense of awareness and perspective on the industry I worked in, the direction I wanted to take my styling and, most importantly, the people I surrounded myself with in New York.
LTP: How did the project become a full-fledged family business?
KG: After our first harvest in 2015, Lindsay encouraged me and her father to sell our olive oil and present it in a way that reflected our family. We put a lot of care into our 420 trees. I try and do as much as I can myself, but do have reliable crews that have helped with weeding (we don’t use chemicals to kill weeds), pruning and harvesting. Usually, that is only as-needed. We only grow Arbequina olives, and that is the only oil we produce. We don’t add any flavors to it. The oil is simple and straightforward with the essence of grass and the nostalgia of summer sun in each bottle. That is what I love.
LG: I’ll never forget my first spoonful of Arbequina extra virgin olive oil (or EVOO) from our first harvest. I may have even laughed a little at the thought that this was only meant to be shared with friends and family. I felt it was time to give back in some way and make a dream a reality. I presented the idea to turn this into a direct-to-consumer business; I would sell our EVOO to people across the US for my parents. Within a week of discussion and nods of approval, I got a website holding page up, called a graphic designer friend and set up meetings to get the ball rolling. The company developed organically and, with the support of friends and family, Central Coast Family Farm was born. EVOO was our first official product.
LTP: Aside from consuming your olive oil, do you have any wellness rituals or beauty obsessions that keep you feeling balanced and relaxed?
KG: Right now, it’s spring—and hearing the birds singing and the breeze rushing through the trees is extremely calming. I recently found a road near us that takes me up a hill where there are old farms. And when I get to the shade of the oaks, there are views of the valley and, if I’m lucky, a deer or two. The sound of quail, morning dove, hanging out the laundry in the sun—being outside is my ritual for wellness.
LG: I am pretty on top of my wellness routine. If I miss anything, I feel a bit out of whack—the same as it might be for someone who is dependent on morning coffee. Since I travel often, planes tend to dry my skin out, so I make sure to take extra good care of what I put on my body. I have had seasonal eczema since I was about 3 years old and was diagnosed with vitiligo when I was about 8 years old, so taking care of body and health is essential.
During the past few years, I have started incorporating our EVOO into my skincare routines. Depending my mood, I either use our EVOO directly on my eczema-prone spots or add it to my moisturizer of choice and use it all over my body. When it comes to baths, I switch between tablespoon of EVOO directly in my bath or Herbivore’s Coconut Milk Bath Soak. I jump out and my skin feels as soft as a baby every time.
Recently, I have also been addicted to Big Sur Country Soap. Using their Rosehips & Petals bar makes me feel like I’ve just left a spa. Plus, it’s made near our farm—a bonus. When not using our EVOO on my body, I love all things Kat Burki or Tata Harper; these products are my go-tos because they’re free of parabens, synthetic dyes and other harmful ingredients.
When feeling imbalanced, I have my acupuncturist on speed dial. For butt-lifting (I mean, uplifting) workouts, I try to get out of town as much as possible, whether hiking upstate or taking cliffside walks out East. Fresh air is necessary for me, and, as much as I love my New York Pilates and bike rides around town, nothing is better than finding an open trail with no buildings around to set you back to sanity.
LTP: What does happiness look like to you?
KG: When my family is happy, I am at peace—and, of course, a walk on the beach cures all!
LG: Healthy family and friends. Robust physical and mental health is happiness as a whole.
LTP: What does it mean to you to “Live The Process” and how can we all do that more each day?
KG: I am 61 years old and am still learning how to do that, but I suppose that to “Live The Process” is to try to live honestly with yourself and others. I am still settling into this new neighborhood and community where we now live, so trying to be a good neighbor and making new friends is on my list. It means making time to stop and really take in the day, even if just for a moment—to be grateful for the life I am living.
LG: Working towards something, even when we don’t know what we’re working for. We all need to live in the moment a little more, get off our phones a lot more, talk to each other the most and, lastly, plant a tree with someone you love. You’ll thank me later.