Lewis Johnson and his daughter Kristean Eutsler.
LEWIS JOHNSON - A Recipe for Success
Many wonder what it takes to be a successful farmer in today’s ever changing agriculture industry. Lewis Johnson is a third generation farmer. His love of the land, practical experience, courage, and determination has grown his olive company from a small farm into a lucrative olive oil business.
Over 95% of the olives grown in the United States are produced in California. Lewis’ processing plant and his 200 acres of Mission, Manzanilla, Ascolanas, Sevillano, and Barouni olives are located in Palermo, California. At his processing plant, he presses olives for himself and others. He also sells extra virgin olive oil and flavored oils under the Butte View Olive Company and Stella Cadente labels.
In 1986, Lewis was working in the saw mills to support his love of farming, while leasing 100 acres of olives and selling to them to the cannery. At this point in his life he had to decide between working at the saw mill or farming. As he tells it, “I didn’t have to think twice about it – farming was the obvious choice.” He didn’t realize how much pressure he had been under until he left the saw mill and began farming full time.
In the late 1990’s, the cannery decided to stop accepting Ascolanas olives. Lewis had 15 acres of 100 year old Ascolanas trees. He decided to see what kind of oil he could get out of these olives. The first pressing was done with a local processor in 1999. He experimented with the oil that was produced, giving most of it away. In 2000 he had some difficulties with the local processor and decided to take matters into his own hands. He traveled to Italy to look into the equipment offered by Pieralisi, an Italian manufacturer of olive processing equipment. He purchased the items he needed to start pressing olives in-house and Butte View Olive Company was formed.
Lewis was selling his virgin olive oil and flavored oils in Northern California and parts of Nevada. In 2006, he had the opportunity to purchase Stella Cadente, a national olive company he had pressed olives for in the past. Lewis saw this as an opportunity to sell his products under the Stella Cadente label and expand his sales across the nation.
By 2012 he was pressing 1000 pounds of olives an hour, at times 24 hours a day for weeks at a time. Butte View Olive Company grew year over year. As the demands grew, so did the plant. In 2013, Lewis purchased new equipment, which enabled him to double the amount he could press in an hour. Four years later he needed to expand his equipment to handle the volume of requests he was receiving. His facility increased the amount it could press to 3000 pounds of olives per hour.
Lewis produces extra virgin olive oils and several variations of flavored olive oils: garlic, jalapeno, balsamic, tuscan seasoning, Meyer lemon, blood orange, basil, rosemary, and Persian lime; all under the Butte View Olive Company and Stella Cadente labels. Lewis uses the “Crush” process, except for garlic flavored oils, to add flavor to the virgin olive oil. The “Crush” process is when whole fresh fruit, herbs, or vegetables are crushed along with olives during the milling process. Many of his competitors use the “Infused” method, where oil essences are blended into the extra virgin olive oil.
Butte View Olive Company and Stella Cadente are a family run business. Lewis’ daughter, Kristean Eutsler, started working with her father in 2001. She helps in the orchards and handles all of the bottling, labeling, and shipping of the products. Kristean, like Lewis, has innovative ideas and is always looking for opportunities where others might not. For example, she recently developed a method to take old olive oil and create bars of soap. The soap is long lasting and 100% pure olive oil, unlike other soaps that are typically a mix of oils. The soap will be available to all in the near future. Kristean’s daughter, Jesika, has recently become involved in the business. They are now fourth and fifth generation farmers and plan to carry on Lewis’ legacy.
Lewis has been a member of Golden State Farm Credit for many years. He says, “The relationship with Golden State Farm Credit is important to my success. They understand my business, compared to commercial banks, and make it easy to come in, sit down, and say this is what I would like to do. Then we work together to figure out how to make it happen.” Golden State Farm Credit is proud to be Lewis’ financial partner, helping him accomplish his agricultural goals throughout the years.
Lewis’ passion for farming, the ability to see possibilities where others might not, and taking charge of his own destiny is why he will continue to flourish. Lewis offers the following advice to those that are considering expanding into a niche market: “Explore how you will market your product. Making the product is the easy part, selling it will be the hardest. Don’t start out big, start small and work your way up.” This is sound advice coming from a farmer with a proven instinct and the resourcefulness to take any obstacle and turn it into a recipe for success.