12 Jun

Oroville’s Own

By Mary Weston

His fascination with olive oil began when his father bought property with 20 acres of olives in Oroville.”I grew up in Humbolt County, and I wanted a farm,” Jamie Johansson said.

He had majored in political science at Colorado State University in Denver, and he realized he didn’t want to be an attorney or to live in Washington D.C.

He enjoyed the outdoors and was attracted to farming because he thought it would give him a certain level of independence.

“That was kind of a misconception,” he said. “You’re always dependent on the weather, the economy or something.”

When his parents bought the property, Jamie asked if he could farm the land. At the time, he wasn’t sure what the product would be. However, he knew he had to have a product he could market through direct sales to make it as a small farmer.

He moved to the farm in 1993 and started producing olive oil as Lodestar Farms. They bought 20 more acres of olives and increased production in 1998.

“That was when olive oil was undergoing a rebirth,” Jamie said.

At that time, there was a core group of about 10 olive growers in California, mostly in Napa and Sonoma counties. Now there are more than 400 olive agencies in the state, he said. People were switching to olive oil because of the health benefits and studies showing it lowers bad cholesterol. He said the Mediterranean Diet especially increased the demand for a world class olive oil.

The farm now spans 80 acres with 40 acres of olives. Eventually, Jamie would like to have trails around the farm, so visitors could tour the farm, picnic and take pictures.

Lodestar Farms continues a 100-year history of producing a distinct provincial olive oil in Oroville. The olive oils are cold pressed from Mission Olives, a variety distinct to California, with 75 percent of the olives grown in the Oroville area.

Jamie said Oroville has long been recognized as an ideal region to grow olives. With growers in Napa and Sonoma looking for new places to grow olives, Jamie would like to invite other growers to the area to explore the advantages of locating here.

The family has won numerous awards for their olive oil, including the people’s choice (Liquid Gold Award) for the third year in a row at the 2006 Sonoma Olive Festival.

They produce several types of olive oil, including lemon olive oil, virgin olive oil and a pungent Italian variety. Sixteen ounce bottles are sold for $9 and smaller bottles for $7 at the farm, on the Web site at lodestarfarms.com and in local stores.

Jamie and his wife, Nicole, operate the tasting room at the farm on Saturdays and Sundays. There visitors can sample and buy Lodestar Olive Oil and other unique farm products, including jasmine, pecans, walnut oil and birds carved by a local artist.

The Mission Olive is a late harvest variety. At the farm, the olives are hand picked around January. The oil is cold pressed, stored in vats and bottled, with the new products coming out in March or April. About 30 pounds of Mission Olives go into a 16 ounce bottle of olive oil.

Mission Olives produce a buttery/fruity oil that isn’t as pungent as European varieties, he said. About 52 percent of the olive oil produced in California is made with Oroville olives, he said. The majority of olives grown in Corning go to the canning industry.

“We would like to find someone who cures their own olives and offer them here (at Lodestar),” he said.

Freda Ehmann and her son started the olive oil tradition in Oroville more than 100 years ago. Jamie said she was a widow with only 20 acres of olives to make a go of it.

The Lodestar family farm is carrying on that tradition.

“We couldn’t do what we do if we weren’t in Oroville,” Jamie said.

He said the uniqueness of the flavor comes from the Oroville grown Mission Olives. The fact that they are from Oroville with a long olive growing history and way of making olive oil sets them apart from everyone else too, he said.

He and Nicole spend a lot of time traveling to events for wineries and family farms that produce specialty foods.

He said they encourage people to come to Oroville for the weekend and see the area. He said there are three olive oil companies and three wineries in the area, with six wineries in Butte County.

“We sell olive oil and attempt to educate people about it and about Oroville,” Jamie said.

Jamie along with Heather Quilici of Quilici Vineyards published a map that outlines a Butte County tour of family farms, wineries, olive oil companies and restaurants and stores that sell the products. The Sierra Oro Farm Trail tour can be completed in one day.

Jamie and Nicole attended California State University at the same time. About six years ago, she moved to San Francisco, and they connected at a wedding in Los Angeles. The relationship bloomed, and they married about two years ago. She brought another addition to the family farm, working with Jamie in the tasting room.

“The best thing about having the tasting room is to be able to brag about Oroville,” he said.

Jamie was recently appointed to the Oroville City Council.

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