Written and Photographed by Felicia Friesema
contest: The god who gave mankind its most valuable gift would win. Athena produced an olive tree.
That story is one of many—thousands, really—that pepper a rich agricultural history dating back to 6,000 BC, when it was first discovered that the wild olive, Olea europaea, could be grafted and propagated to produce an oil with myriad uses that spanned from sacred symbolism to healing skin afflictions and digestive disorders to fueling lamps and stoves to providing essential and flavorful nourishment.
This history is lovingly explored in Mort Rosenblum’s book Olives: The Life and Lore of a Noble Fruit in passionate and exhaustive detail. This is the tome that found its way into the hands of Joyce Lukon in 2007. As a newly minted landowner in Topanga Canyon, Lukon was hoping to turn a hard-scrabble, hilly former nudist colony parcel into a productive farm. Over 800 Arbequina and Arbosana olive trees—Spanish varietals known for their high oil content and mild and buttery flavor profile—now fill the three and a half acre property she has dubbed Robinson Road Olive Ranch, a piquant reminder of the all-but-forgotten days of the agricultural potency of Los Angeles County.
“It was awful. It was a dump,” said Lukon, visibly grimacing at the memory of the property when she bought it in 2004. “It was all weeds and pony walls and bamboo shades. Like somebody was hiding here.