If you frequent the Davis Farmers Market than you've probably noticed the woman with the brimmed hat and infectious smile that is seemingly always at the corner stall on Saturday mornings.
Dianne greeting customers on a Saturday morning at the Davis Farmers Market
Dianne Madison of Yolo Press has a warm smile, generous heart and love of the local Northern California environment.
Dianne and Mike Madison moved to Davis in 1984. Mike, like many of us Davisites, returned to his home after spending several years away. Shortly after they returned to Davis, they bought a small farm in Solano County and began farming flowers, citrus and other produce.
So how did they go from flowers to olives?
Olive oil, you could say, runs through Dianne's veins. Her great-grandfather sold olive oil and wine back in Italy. So one Christmas, Dianne thought t would be fun to buy Mike a book about making olive oil. The Yolo County climate is surprisingly similar to the Mediterranean environment and the Madisons thought that olives would do well here. They were right.
In 1991 the Madisons planted a couple acres of olives, then steadily expanded to their current 1,700 trees of 16 varieties of olives. They were producing so many olives that it became apparent that they needed their own equipment for pressing the olives. So Mike traveled to Italy for two weeks and bought a stainless steel centrifugal mill.
The lifecycle of the Yolo Press olive oil is completely local -- grown on their Northern California farm, pressed on their modern olive milling machinery, and sold by Dianne and Mike at the Davis Farmers Market (Dianne does Saturdays and Mike does Wednesdays) and other local retailers.
Just one of several varieties of olive oil produced by Northern California's Yolo Press
Dianne was kind enough to sit down with me recently for a cup of coffee and to chat about being a farmer, small business owner and lover of Northern California. It was a nice change from standing out in the cold Davis weather at the Market.
The Madisons started off growing bulbs and cut flowers on their 22 acre farm, about 200 types, before moving to olives. Throughout this time, they've also grown a dozen or so varieties of citrus, including clementines, oranges, bergamot, and yuzu, as well as other produce such as quince, melons, and blackberries.
Dianna also produces delicious seasonal jams, including fig, blackberry and marmalade
Gardening Advice From a Pro
When I asked Dianne if she had any advice for the home flower gardener, she suggested a mix of perennial and annuals and to not be afraid to mix vegetables and flowers. Some vegetables, such as chard or cabbage are beautiful to look at, can be included in floral arrangements and are edible. Dianne appreciates the artistic value of plants.
Giving Back to the Community
The Madisons are invested in this community. They not only practice sustainable farming practices, but also donate produce and olive oil to local charities including Davis Community Meals and Housing. This year alone they donated about 1,000 pounds of persimmons and 40 three-liter jugs of olive oil to Village Harvest, an organization that harvests local fruit and vegetables for the area food banks. They believe in giving back and supporting their local community.
What's in a Title?
I asked Dianne what she calls herself, her job title? I always have trouble defining my role when people as what I do so I was curious if she found a label that she felt adequately described what she does. She has the same struggle and says on the days she makes jam, she's a jam-maker and the days she makes soap, she's a soap-maker. When she meets new people she says she owns a small farm in Northern California. But that doesn't quite get to the heart of what she does. Yes she's a farmer. Yes she's a jam-maker. And a soap-maker. And an olive-oil producer. But she's also a mom, a grandmother, a staple of the Davis Farmer's Market, a community volunteer, and a mentor.
Yolo Press also produces oil oil based skin care products such as soaps, lip balms and hand salves
Her favorite thing about Northern California? It's a "food heaven" -- we're surrounding with a diversity in food unlike almost anywhere in the world. Wine, olive oil, citrus, tomatoes, beautiful flowers... Northern California is a pretty special place.
Dianne and UC Davis Humphrey Fellow, Khush Bakht Aalia, who is a visiting scholar from Pakistan
Yolo Press is a small, family-run farm located in Yolo County that is dedicated to producing flowers, jams, skincare products, and organic, extra-virgin olive oil of the highest quality at an affordable price.