I’ve been leaded by Ariadne’s thread into various places on the Greek islands in the past six years while I was searching for the raw essence and characteristics of this magical region on Earth. Rare times these meetings and experiences truly bonded me with nature, and showed me the way towards my ‘egoless self’ too (even that this way is a long one). They showed me the possible ways towards peace, harmony and simplicity. Things I was always craving for – oftentimes in the wrong environment. During my visit on the olive groves of the Chalanta family I became richer with this mentioned rare experience.
It was a beautiful, sunny March day on the island of Helios. Maria, the – young, beautiful and extremely kind – only daughter of the family picked me up in the busy and noisy Rhodes town. After a twenty minutes drive we were in the tiny, peaceful Psinthos (Ψινθος) village – one of the 42 villages of Rhodes. From sea-level we drove up to an altitude of 300 meters to the outskirt of Psinthos, where the Chalanta family has its gorgeous land.
From the first minute I understood the cohesion and love between the members of this family. Maria and her two brothers, Petros and Fotis are the youngest generation of the family who established the Purefarm brand with their brother-sister superpowers in order to continue the journey of their ancestors of cultivating the land. Not only the siblings, but also their ever-smiling parents and their adorable grandpa joined our interview on the field in order to sit under the tall pine trees and have a conversation together about their job, about nature and the land, and of course about their premium product, the liquid gold of Greece: olive oil.
Mariann Lipcsei: What is Purefarm? When and why did you create it?
Maria: The brand name Purefarm was born when we started to launch our olive oil, Stagona in the market which was in 2015. Before Stagona, first we had pomegranates, watermelons and lemon trees as products in our field.
Petros: We wanted to present all of our products under one name, so this became Purefarm. In this word you can find the capital letters of our first names: P stands for Petros, F stands for Fotis and M stands for Maria. These letters are also highlighted in our logo.
Maria: We already had our connection with nature, we are in an agricultural area as you see, not in a business region. When Petros finished his agricultural studies in Athens, Fotis has finished learning economics, I was still in my highschool years. First I started to learn psychology, but then I felt that I wanted to do something different, so I started to participate in the Olive Oil Taster Program. Since that we started to develop Purefarm. We wanted to have the best possible knowledge before we initiate our olive oil to the market. Of course we had our relationship with the land as a basis, what we got from our grandparents and parents.
Petros: When I finished the university in Athens, I decided to come back to Rhodes to my village and see how could I help here with my knowledge. And also I wanted to do something that I can do with love. That time our grandpa had only a few olive trees here, and we started to think about what else can we grow. First we planted pomegranates, then watermelon, lemon and lime trees. And we will see what else can we plant in the future, because we have a huge area.
Maria: As for watermelon at first it was a risk, because you might know that on Rhodes island the best microclimate for watermelon is in the South (in Apollakia and Kattavia villages) because of the sandy soil. And when we told people that we grew watermelon, everybody was laughing. I remember that our first watermelon on our land grew by accident without water, without any human intervention, so we decided to try planting it and take this risk.
Petros: As for olive oil, we have two brands: Stagona and Klironomia. These are our own productions, from our land, from our harvest. And until we buy our own facilities to press the olive oil, we cooperate with a local olive press.
Mariann L: When was it really clear for the three of you to start the Purefarm project together and create your own company with your own products?
Maria: When Petros finished his school in Athens in 2011, it was the time of the Greek financial crisis. So, we already had the land, the soil, and our parents and grandparents were raised us to love this land. We spent our childhood here. It was very convinient to invest our work into this land.
Petros: I have a lot of memories from the past, when I was only five or six years old and came here to participate in the harvest with grandpa. And we were always asking him: ’Hey Grandpa, when do we go again to the field together?’ So we decided to come back here and do something different together. First we had to fix a water system to be able to water the land. Before our project it wasn’t necessary, because the olive trees of grandpa were used to the dry climate conditions, nobody watered them, only the rain.
Mariann L: So how did you have the faith that this project would provide you a possible future?
Maria: At first we didn’t know what would happen. Even now we are not sure if it will be a success story or not. But we are three siblings. Fotis is very good in communication – even that he said nothing so far today (everybody is laughing – by Mariann L) – he is managing the marketing of our products, Petros had all the knowledge about the plants and agriculture, and I went to Athens to learn about the culinary aspects of olive oil, and finally: we love what we do.
Mariann L: Is everybody participating in the jobs in the field?
Altogether: Yes, of course!
Maria: Even our grandpa comes and helps us.
Mariann L: Who are the customers of your olive oil?
Petros: Mostly businesses who sell premium traditional Greek products.
Mariann L: Was it difficult to launch your product on the market?
Fotis: No, it wasn’t really. We are the producers and also the sellers of our olive oils, and this makes things easier, because the customers would like to see the faces behind the products in general.
Maria: And here on Rhodes everybody knows who we are. Because we have a relatively small amount of production, we haven’t sold our product abroad so far. But we have customers on Rhodes, Symi and Kos island. The Rhodian market actually would like to support local producers.
Petros: Also this is the beginning for us, but slowly slowly more and more people are interested in our products and want to learn what is the difference between our olive oil and the other olive oils in the market. The bottle and the packaging of our Stagona brand is very impressive, but we needed also the proof about the good quality of our oil. So we decided to participate in the International Olive Oil Competition in London in 2017, where we gained a bronze award. It was a very important result for us to get a feedback that we are on the right direction, because it was our first time in a competition with our olive oil.
Maria: The appropriate bottle was also important in order to preserve the quality of the olive oil. Olive oil is very sensitive and it can be spoiled very easily if it is preserved in the wrong way.
Mariann L: So tell me, what makes a good olive oil?
Petros: First of all, we have to take care of our trees. If we have healthy trees, we have healthy crops. And it is never standard, because all depend on the weather. In Rhodes we are lucky, because we have a lot of sunshine all over the place, which is important. Also we have a clean, fresh air always in our field. We take care about the diseases, that damage the trees. We come here everyday and we check everything, so we can do the necessary actions immediately. Also we have to be careful about the instects. If you have a lot of insects, you will not be able to make a good quality of olive oil. And if you are here everyday in the land, you can avoid using chemicals too.
Maria: There are many ways to protect your trees. We use for example organic fertilizer, we have to take care of our crops, we also eat our products ourselves.
Petros: And after the harvest we bring our crops very fast to the olive press. If you don’t press your olives right after the harvest, you will loose its quality.
Maria: The ideal month for the olive harvest is November. When the fruits are getting purple, between green and purple, that is the best time to press them because of the aromas. In two or three hours after the harvest, our crops are in the olive press.
Petros: The good quality of the juice of our crops depends on the olive press also.
Maria: The press we cooperate with follows our instructions about the process, like how much water they should put in the mill, about the duration of the process and the correct temperature. And after that we place our oil where there is no sun and heat, and where we can keep a standard low temperature. Then we bottle the olive oil. Our glass bottle preserves the oil from the sunlight and the small edition also helps to maintain the good quality of the olive oil.
Mariann L: How much does the location count for the quality of the olive oil?
Maria: To be honest, you can see an island without hills or mountains and still they can have a very good quality of olive oil. If someone takes care of his trees, if he doesn’t use chemicals, if the olive press is good, and all the processes are done with knowledge and care, someone can have a good quality of olive oil.
Mariann L: Can you tell me a bit more about your two olive oil brands, Stagona and Klironomia?
Petros: We used the olive variety Tsunati (or in other names Athinolia, or Matsolua) for our Stagona and Klironomia oils. We also have other varieties in our land, like Koroneiki, which is the most famous variety in Greece, and we have a local variety (or ’topia’) called Throumbolia. This latest one has a bigger fruit, and we don’t use them only as oil, but we also eat them.
Maria: All these different varieties are in different storages after the press procedure. Then we send them to a chemical analisys, where we see which type of olive oil has the best quality, so that one will be bottled. This year we decided to bottle Tsunati. Stagona and Klironomia contains the same olive oil, but in a different bottle. Stagona’s bottle is a premium one, comes in a 200 ml edition. And Klironomia has a more affordable packaging, comes in 100 ml, 250 ml and 500 ml versions.
Mariann L: Where do the names come from? Stagona means ’drop’, right? (here I wanted to show my impressive Greek knowledge – by ML)
Maria: Yes. We wanted to send the message to the customers, that every single drop is important for us in this premium bottle with a limited production. The quality of the olive oil is very high and we are trying our very best for this quality.
Mariann L: And Klironomia?
Maria: Klironomia means heritage. Our grandparents gave us our trees, our land, so we named this product in order to say thank you for them.
Mariann L: What kind of qualities do you think someone need in order to do this job in the land?
Petros: Someone has to be very patient. Because maybe you will take care of all the trees, all the plants, but the weather will not be with you and you will not be able to harvest the amount you wanted, or in general. So the result will not only depend on you. Also you have to be strong, you have to work under the sun many hours, or sometimes in the winter in the rain, but you have to finish your job. But, in this case your job is the nature, and this feeling is very nice.
Mariann L: What is the most difficult and the most rewarding part in your work?
Maria: When you have your own products in your house, it is the best part of course.
Petros: The most difficult part is the production, especially the harvest of the olives. Because the weather conditions can be difficult this time of the year.
Maria: And you can actually damage your trees if you are not sensitive enough during the harvest.
Mariann L: How can someone learn this job?
Petros: The best way is by practice. The more time you spend on the field, the more things you see and understand. As I decided to learn agriculture in the university in Athens, therefore I had a small knowledge before starting the work in practice, but that was actually not enough. I found the first few years very difficult here. I had to find the solutions for the specific problems, diseases on our field. Every field has its specific insects and fauna which can be very different from other places. So you have to find the answers yourself.
Mariann L: And what did your grandfather teach you?
Petros: To love the field and to have patience.
Mariann L: What was your motivation as young persons to start working with nature? What kind of satisfaction does it give you? How does it transform you?
Maria: Our parents and grandparents were working with the field, but nobody was pressing us to be involved with it. We just got enthusiastic about this idea.
Petros: Nowadays we see that most of the people have the desire to work in big towns, cities, but – as I see – they are more anxious, they have less time for everything. I think it depends on us to have a better life. Better life in my opinion is in the nature.
Maria: I think that this life in cities and towns that Petros described somehow became the most desired lifesyle. But these days I see also people searching the way back to nature. By now, for us being here on the field became the very normal thing.
Fotis: To plant a tree or any other plant, and to see it growing, then to harvest the plant gives you the feeling of taking care of a child.
Maria: Therefore we respect nature.
Petros: Also it gives us a lot of energy. We don’t have a boss in our life, we decide our working hours, there is no specific time for the work, for example between 6 and 12 o’clock. It doesn’t matter here if you come half an hour later. This work gives us a lot of freedom.
Fotis: And everything we do here makes us feel proud.
Maria: As a result of working with the land I realized also that I became more consious about my own food product choices.
Mariann L: Would you like to highlight any nice memories that helped you to be connected with the land and with this job?
Maria: I think that we all have one person in our mind who really connected us with the land, and she was our grandma.
Petros: We use to come here together for our walk to cut some wild green leaves (χόρτα) to eat.
Maria: I also remember that one day Fotis was very thirsty because of the sun, and we planted some peppers in the field, he cut the pepper and just ate it as it was. It is normal to eat your plants straight from the garden. And at the beginning we didn’t have a car to drive here, so we came with grandpa’s tractor.
Mariann L: What are the basic guidences in your work that you follow?
Maria: We respect each other’s opinion, and we come everyday to the field, even at Christmas or on holidays. We have to come and we love to come here.
Mariann L: What is the role of olive trees and olive oil in the local community?
Petros: Here on Rhodes every family use to have its own trees and own olive oil. Olive oil belongs to every home. We were born with olive oil, we die with olive oil, also our traditions and religious customs are based on the usage of olive oil.
Fotis: We use it for all of our foods. And the old generation – like our grandpa – start the day with drinking a little bit of olive oil.
Mother of Petros, Fotis & Maria: Also Odysseas Elytis said that if Greece falls apart, you can still rebuild it with an olive tree, a grapewine and with a boat.
Mariann L: What are your future plans with Purefarm?
Maria: We would like to gain the trust of more people with our products. Maybe to open our farm for visitors to offer the experience of the land to others.
Petros: We would like to have our own facilities, our own press in the farm also.
Maria: And as three siblings, maybe we can leave this land to our families in the future, that would be nice.
Tasting olive oil with Maria
After our conversation, Maria showed me the process of olive oil tasting. “This deep blue is the color of the glass of olive oil tasting in order not to be visually influenced by the olive oil’s color” – she said. I learnt that we check three characteristics of the extra virgin oil: its fruitness, the bitterness and the pungency on a zero to ten scale. There are three categories of olive oil: we call it extra virgin (1), when the defect score is zero and its aromas of fruitness are greater than zero. The virgin olive oil (2) has lower defect than 3,5 score and you are able to smell the fruity aromas. Finally there is the category lampante (3) which is not recommended for consumption. Before we smell the olive oil in this dark blue glass, we should keep it in our hands for a little while in order to heat it, so the aromas can appear from the oil.
“When we smell it, we try to find the green grass, or some fruits, it depends on the variety. This is tsunati, so anyway… you can tell me what do you feel in it.” – said Maria while giving me the small blue bottle to smell the olive oil. Me, as a Hungarian village girl raised on bacon and fat, I had no idea what I was doing. I sensed the smell of tomatoe though, and maybe I was right, because Maria was nodding her head and encouraged me that this is a good suggestion for tsunati.
After that came the difficult part: tasting the olive oil. It has a certain technique and you have to sip some air into your mouth between your teeth with the olive oil. Maria did it as an expert obviously. And then she added: “This olive oil has green grass in its smell and also it has a certain sweetness, the organoleptic assessment showed that it has apricot aromas too.”
We checked together also a bad quality of olive oil that had a metalic smell, because it had too much contact with the air.
The Chalanta family during our talk offered me their own tsunati olives served with tomatoe, arugula and cheese under the huge pine trees. Beside that, they prepared me a huge box of pomegranate and one of each olive oil products of them. But before Maria took me back to the noisy and busy city, the family suggested me to have a meal together in one of the traditional tavernas of Psinthos. So we went to the famous Taverna Fasouli – straight to Greek food heaven.
Unfortunately the end of this day came, and I was suddenly back in my city life. But, a Greek actor once told me: “Oniro makes your world much bigger.” And oniro (Όνειρο) means dream in Greek. This heartwarming day with the Halanda family on their land made me dream about a better, peaceful, balanced and abundant life full of olive oil and responsibility for the land we live on. With the recognition that our ancient agricultural heritage is actually sacred – wherever we live in the world.
One more thought. Family itself is a structure, only a vessel, or a “pot”. It can contain many things – depending on what we cultivate inside of this pot. Family can be the carrier of human values, timeless messages in renewed shapes and colors, a mediator space of tradition and truth, a true bond between generations through the assets of love, patience, and respect. And what do I mean by timeless messages? To keep the connection alive between us and the land we stand on (not theoretically, but factually in practice), and to keep time with the rhythm of inner and outer nature.
And why is nature (Φύση) so important for us humans? Because it has: “spirit, clarity, serenity, beauty, playfulness, it’s whimsical, it has secret, personality, charm and vortex. The human being lives a twofold life inside this cosmic piece of art, once as a creature, an opus, but also He himself is a creator, a companion of the gods.”
I saw the proof of this companionship on that day on the field of the Chalanta family.
Purefarm by the Chalanta family:
Psinthos, Rhodes 85100
tel: +30 6980762848
email: info (at) purefarm.gr
 The Nobel Prize-winning Greek poet, essayist and translator (1911-1996)
 “It is an official method for detect, measure and describe the positive and negative characteristics in virgin olive oil, by using the human senses. The evaluation is performed by selected, trained and certified team of tasters (tasting panel), with at least eight members. The method is world-wide accepted and give us the ability to classify a virgin olive oil in one of the following categories “Extra Virgin”,”Virgin” or “Lampante””. /source: oliveoiltastinglab.gr
 Excerpt from the essay of Bela Hamvas: Empedokles (translated by Mariann Lipcsei)
* the credit of the pasted photos belongs to the Chalanta family
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