And if Alan Battersby has his way, Maui will also soon be known for a crop that has been grown since biblical times—olives. And so far, his ideas are taking root.
Located at an elevation of about 2,200 feet makai-side of Kula Highway, the Calasa Gulch Olive Tree Farm looks a little like an Italian Villa, with picturesque vineyards following the contours of the gently rolling hills dotted by olive trees. In the center stands the beautiful Battersby “farmhouse” with its golden hue and red-tile roof. A breezeway connects the house with the building utilized to crush grapes (another agricultural experiment) and process olives.
So how does a businessman from the Mainland become a successful Maui Gentleman Farmer? Battersby marvels at the twists and turns life can take.
Alan Battersby will soon harvest his olives. “The olive is one of the oldest plants known to man,” he said, and can live for over 2,000 years.
“I started in the hotel business in New Orleans, then joined Four Seasons,” said Alan.
His next hotel venture took him to Dallas, where he met and married his wife, Lisena, in 1992. The couple bought their first hotel in Austin, Texas, and eventually acquired more properties and expanded their presence in the hospitality industry, allowing them to travel extensively and develop a deep love of Europe—specifically Italy.
But their life took a turn when their daughter was born prematurely at an astonishingly low birthweight. “The doctors suggested we look for a warmer climate for her,” said Alan. Lisena’s family had been coming to Maui for years and had a cottage in Kīhei, so after much consideration, “We decided Maui would be the best solution… ”
Although Alan said his family enjoyed Kīhei, “We were kind of looking for a place to check out of society.”
So when a realtor took him Upcountry to see a rough patch of land divided by a beautiful, dramatic gulch, “I started thinking, you know, we could turn this into a farm for my daughter.”
Fortunately, Alan’s daughter has since gotten a clean bill of health. And the Calasa Gulch Olive Tree Farm, which Alan said started as a hobby, has become a way of life.
Alan’s first idea for the property was to grow grapes and make wine.
“We couldn’t move to Italy so we decided to bring Italy here,” he said. “My neighbor had told me the climate at this elevation was a lot like Sicily. I thought that should be ideal for grapes.”
Soon, construction began on the house, and Alan had cleared and planted about two acres of grapes. But he kept hearing about the benefits of the “Mediterranean Diet” and how olive oil was being touted as a great food to help people live longer.
“Olives are becoming what grapes were 20 years ago,” said Alan. “In California, every year more than 10,000 acres of olives are added.”
So, after a visit to California and meetings to discuss the specifics of growing olives, Alan brought in 20 trees. Almost immediately, he knew he was onto something.
“Right away, they took to the land,” he said. “They seemed happy.”
Since the germination of that idea, the property has transformed into a working farm with more than 1,000 olive trees in the ground and another 1,000 in various stages of propagation. In addition to grapes and olives, there are artichokes, papaya, herbs such as lemongrass, rosemary and basil, and even lavender dotting the property.
Alan eagerly anticipates the first major olive harvest next year. He said it takes about four years for the plants to become productive and they are in their prime from about seven to 12 years.
“The olive is one of the oldest plants known to man,” he pointed out, and can live for over 2,000 years.
Alan said he plans to offer table olives as well as olive oil. Currently, he is growing green, black and purple olives, and has set up orchards for a number of Maui residents to grow their own for culinary purposes. Varieties include Kalamata, Aberquina, Picholine, Manzanilla, Nicoise and at least 16 others from Italy, Spain, France and Greece. His trees are available at Kula Hardware.
Almost as an afterthought, Alan pointed out that the entire operation is “off the grid,” utilizing gravity irrigation and no electricity.
“We use solar generators and batteries,” he said. “It’s amazing what you can do without if you don’t have it.”
As a result, Alan and Lisena’s popular “pizza parties,” featuring pies baked in a special wood-fired oven in the backyard, end shortly before sundown.
The entire venture, said Alan, has been extremely rewarding. Despite the challenges of fending off bugs, deer, birds and fungus, and pioneering the establishment of an entirely new crop on Maui, he said he wouldn’t change a thing.