It is truly amazing how simple questions and honest answers can open the world to infinite possibilities. This is exactly what happend when I sat down with Nicolas Netien of Atsas Organic Farm in Cyprus. Atsas organic olive oil set a new world record for oleocanthal; this is how he did it. A combination of applied knowledge, experimentation, geography, regenerative agriculture, kalamon olive variety, olive mill, and a passion for excellence.

1. Where are you from originally?

Nicolas: My family is from the south east of France, north of the Provence.
i grew up in Marrakesh and then Lyon, France

2. How did you end up living in Cyprus and working with olive trees and olive oil production?

Nicolas: I met my wife six years ago in Jordan during a permaculture seminar, she is half Greek half Cypriot, I moved to Greece with her where we started a consultancy (CIE).
We came here about 4 and half years ago for a consultancy on what was at the time a 2 Ha olive grove belonging to my wife Maria’s uncle George David. When I first met Maria’s uncle, we found that we had a communal passion for nature, he understood straight away the agro ecological design and got exited with it. The development of the land overlooking his village, now in the occupied area and in ruins, is his vision, providing for the local community with the center is also his doing.

We taught specific composts and planted aromatics on contour to diversify the grove and to slowly, spread and sink any rain falling on the land. The grove is overlooking the occupied village of Petra where my wife’s family is from. The trees were planted 3 years before we first came, in bare rock with a pneumatic drill, irrigated with very saline water, constantly blown by the winds from the sea next door.  About a year after we returned to Cyprus hired to plant and develop an extra 36 Ha of dry land in the UN buffer zone, a kilometer away from the original site, meters from the border with the TRNC.

3. What is your educational background or how did you learn to manage an olive grove specifically or farming in general?

Nicolas: I am an environmental engineer, I came across agro-ecology a bit more than 10 years ago while travelling in Australia, I started studying agro ecosystems and soil biology with an emphasis in dry lands and then working on different projects, I had very little experience with olive cultivation prior to this but I new about agro-ecology design in difficult conditions, our approach from the beginning was to design a system diverse and resilient.
the specifics of milling were learnt from research and a lots of trials with our fantastic little mill, we sent lots of samples to Mr Magiatis, with different milling settings until we found the right way, we still researching on other parameters like irrigation, types of composts etc…

4. How did you achieve such a high concentration with the Kalamon variety which is best known for its table olives.

Nicolas: Well the trees are 2 years old, we irrigate to the minimum, we do not till, the trees are fertilized with home made compost and all inoculated with mycorrhizae fungi
we had no olive fly issues as the Kalamon matures really early and we harvested the 1st of September, the temps were above 35 celsius too hot for the fly…
Our terroir is incredible, the geology unique in the world (Troodos Mountains) we are next to the sea and its very, very hot in summer…
We harvest by hand very gently, from the tree to the mill the olives spend less than half hour in shallow baskets, we avoid any bruising leading to oxidation.
We mill without adding water, with constant attention during malaxation. The oil is directly pumped into nitrogen filled tank, we do not filter it but rather rake it after sedimentation.
I think there is still room for improvement, I am thinking about a custom made mill, that will allow more parameters modifications.

5. What other activities are you involved in with the community to share your knowledge

Nicolas: The CIE started a training center to promote sustainable living and rural development, it is registered with the government. The aim is to provide training for locals from production ( organic farming etc…) to transformation (health and safety, labelling, ISO etc…) and anything related to sustainable living ( natural buildings, renewable energies etc…).
basically trying to provide tools to a sustainable rural development.
The center has a director, Mme Phrosso Hadjilucas that prior to opening the center conducted an extensive consultation within the local community to identify its needs.

6. How do you see the future in 5-10 years, what is your vision?

Here, walking around a flourishing, diverse orchard, grown from bare rock, an oasis of life teaming with birds, bugs and wildlife, a diverse rich and self-sustain agro-ecosystem sinking carbon into its soil. A full expression of this amazing terroir.

 

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