When Olivia and Darro Grieco discovered their historic grove in 2003, it was abandoned and bank-owned. The trees were neglected and damaged by the olive fruit fly.
Darro, a real estate investor and developer at the time, originally planned to restore the property's beauty, and then sell it in parcels.
But when Olivia researched the property’s history, she discovered that the professors who planted it did so with the intention of it lasting a very long time (olive trees have an average lifespan of 600 years!). Honoring that intention, she and Darro began to think of the grove as their "thousand-year project."
Their decision was fitting: Darro, who grew up in Yankee Hill, just 15 miles north of the property, was raised by parents who shared a reverence for nature and living sustainably. His mother was an avid gardener, and grew most of their food.
Olivia is a retired teacher who runs a nonprofit animal rescue. She fell in love with the property the day she walked with Darro among the 100-year-old trees, sensing how special it was.
In addition to producing award-winning olive oils, the couple have been bringing the grove back to its former glory. The first thing they did was establish the entire property as certified organic. This was at a time when organic olives were rare.
They also decided to allow the trees to grow in natural conditions, without irrigation. It turns out this method produces some of the most antioxidant-rich olive oil in the world.
The trees are hand-picked and hand-pruned, a sort of homecoming for Darro, who used to hand-harvest olives from an old grove owned by friends with his family, and his mother would cure them.
The couple are celebrating the Centennial Year of the Berkeley Olive Grove by hosting tastings, giving tours, and offering seminars on harvesting, managing a traditional grove, olive curing and nutrition. They are starting to host farm-to-table dinners in the orchard.
Eventually, the Griecos plan to fix up the historic buildings that once made up the labor camps, and build an organic processing mill. They hope to have weddings in the stone house built by Peter Frandsen in 1930.
To ensure that their land won't be developed in the future, Darro and Olivia are putting the property into conservation, and the trees in a trust so that Mission olives will remain for at least another 100 years.
"Such a traditional agriculture environment might not happen again," says Darro. "This is a unique place, and with the entire estate in conservation it will continue as a place where people can experience a large historic grove."