Purposeful Edna Valley’s freshly bottled olive oil helps Central Coast FFA students achieve agricultural goals

Purposeful Edna Valley founder Laurie Sances scanned her husband’s 20-year-old olive trees and thought of the children.

“I proposed that I could do a harvest and use it to try to create scholarship funds for agricultural students,” she said. “It’s a profession which is not maybe attracting as many students as it once had.”

click to enlarge Purposeful Edna Valley’s freshly bottled olive oil helps Central Coast FFA students achieve agricultural goals
Photo courtesy of Laurie Sances
MINDFUL LABOR: Purposeful Edna Valley owner Laurie Sances participated in the debut harvest of her husband’s olive trees because she wanted to provide avenues of opportunity for local agricultural students.

Sances’ vision allowed the olive trees that shaded the assortment of crops on her husband’s 10-acre Edna Valley farm to be plucked for the first time in January. It was a cool weather-induced late harvest compared to the usual picking time in October. 

Sances told the Sun that she was driven by the concept of ikigai—meaning “a reason to live” or “purposeful”—encountered on a month-long stay in Japan. Paired with clinical dietician and part-time agricultural educator Wendy Minarik, the retired physical therapist began learning the art of harvesting, processing, and pressing olives, all with students in mind.

The duo approached Kiler Ridge Olive Farm in Paso Robles for help.

“[Kiler Ridge Founders] Gregg Bone and Audrey [Burnam] came out to the farm and gave us an assessment of our crop harvest,” Sances said. “We had the oil milled within hours of the harvesting and bottled at their food-grade facility.”

Sances and Minarik gauged the supply and demand for Purposeful’s olive oil through an eight-hour harvest of the Spanish Arbequina and the Tuscan Pendolino, Leccino, and Frantoio olives. It proved to be a labor of love. They spread tarps beneath the trees, grabbed long-handled rakes, and beat the branches with them. They gathered the tarp with the olives that rained down and stored them in bins ready for milling.

Over the course of one day in January, Sances, Minarik, and a dozen workers harvested 30 percent of the fruit from 450 olive trees. It produced 740 bottles of Purposeful’s custom Bella’s Blend of the Tuscan varietals and 70 bottles of the Spanish Arbequina olive oil called Mattie’s Arbequina—both named after two of Sances’ dogs. Purposeful has already sold out the latter.

“To get a quality oil, you can’t collect them from the ground if they’ve just fallen and [were] lying on the ground for days,” Sances said. “You need to harvest them and collect them and get them pressed very quickly to produce an olive oil that has a healthy fruity flavor and body.”

click to enlarge Purposeful Edna Valley’s freshly bottled olive oil helps Central Coast FFA students achieve agricultural goals
Photo courtesy of Laurie Sances
CANINE COMPANION: A dog lover, Purposeful Edna Valley owner Laurie Sances honored her pets Mattie and Bella on the inaugural bottles of olive oil, and she found Top Dog Café in Morro Bay to be a supplier of the product.

While the majority of Purposeful’s 375 milliliter bottles can be purchased at SLO’s Bishop’s Market, Wolff Vineyards, Saucelito Canyon Tasting Room, Baileyana Winery, and from Top Dog Coffee Bar in Morro Bay, Future Farmers of America (FFA) chapters around the Central Coast enjoyed 40 percent of the total bottled olive oil as donations to supervised agricultural experience projects. Purposeful olive oils found themselves not only at Shandon High School, SLO High School, and Paso Robles High School in SLO County, but also at Everett Alvarez High School in Salinas and Ernest Righetti High School in Santa Maria. 

For Righetti freshman Mia Saucedo and junior Samantha McDonald, Purposeful olive oil flew off the shelves when their FFA chapter sold bottles on campus and from its booth at the Santa Maria Strawberry Festival in April.

“They donated four cases of 12 bottles of olive oil, which is a total of 48 bottles,” McDonald said. “We helped them sell them and we brought just over $500. The money is going to be used to help us with our awards banquet, which is coming up this May 15.”

McDonald, Saucedo, and the other FFA students sold Purposeful olive oil for $10 per bottle. They shared the profits with the founders who, in turn, gave them a cut of the surplus. 

Righetti’s FFA chapter is familiar with high-quality olive oil. The campus houses young olive trees, according to FFA Advisor Miguel Guerra. A mobile press company comes and processes Righetti’s olives for free, and the FFA chapter sells the bottled oil to faculty and students to raise money for events and travels. 

Though it sold out its share of Purposeful olive oil, the chapter looks forward to continuing working with Sances and Minarik. Guerra and his students said they enjoyed the taste of the olive oils, with the advisor even sampling the grassy and buttery notes in an offbeat way.

“Other people will cook with it but if you really appreciate the flavor, some bread to dip it in,” Guerra said. “But to me, two drops on vanilla ice cream make it taste really refreshing.”

FFA chapters looking to work with Purposeful can find the application for olive oil donation at the company’s website. It asks students about their business plans, career goals, and higher education plans. Sances told the Sun that she’s anticipating more chapters to contact her since Purposeful is now an established FFA donor. 

click to enlarge Purposeful Edna Valley’s freshly bottled olive oil helps Central Coast FFA students achieve agricultural goals
Photo courtesy of Laurie Sances
MORE THAN OIL: Purposeful Olive Oil handed out recipe cards (available on its website) and free peanut butter and pumpkin dog treats to those who bought bottles of olive oil at the SLO Public Market grand opening of Bishop’s Market.

But donating bottles to a higher volume of recipients means Purposeful must expand its rate of harvest. New to olive processing, Sances and Minarik are taking advantage of the educational resources around them, such as the classes offered by the Olive Oil Source in Santa Maria and at Paso Robles’ Kiler Ridge. They’re also tapping into the UC Davis olive program’s online courses. 

“People in the community, the olive farmers who have been doing this for 35 years, have been willing to impart their knowledge and share and help us to learn and grow as well,” Sances said.

Eventually, she’d like to transform Purposeful into a nonprofit with a 501(c)(3) classification. Sances added that Purposeful’s early commitment to serve as an FFA donor aimed to fill a gap in the opportunities available to students of agriculture.

“Whether it was conferences or competitions, a lot of these students will raise a farm animal and go to the fair and go through these processes, and many of them don’t have the land or the economic opportunity to raise a farm animal,” she said. “So this gives some of those students also a different agricultural opportunity and to actively participate in their FFA chapter.”

New Times Staff Writer Bulbul Rajagopal, from the Sun’s sister paper, keeps her ears wide open for word of Purposeful olive oil sales. Notify her at [email protected].

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