Theo Stephan tailored her life around Mahatma Gandhi’s quote, “Be the change you wish to see the world.” Leaving behind a flourishing but stressful career in design, she was determined to create a business that allowed her to pursue her passions for health, while positively benefiting the world around her. Theo did what many dream of today — she created the ultimate escape from the corporate world.
She bought a ranch, became organic certified, planted 2,000 olive trees from Greece and Spain — and created her own business in an ancient field known for its healing properties. Global Gardens was born, a completely organic olive oil company featuring organically grown and hand-harvested olives in Santa Ynez, California.
I spoke with Theo to learn more about not only how the ubiquitous oil is truly a modern health tonic but how following one’s passion is the real catalyst to a life that’s fulfilling .
Beth Doane: What inspired you to create a business focused on wellness and healing?
Theo Stephan: I owned a graphic design firm and landed a huge account with Universal Studios Hollywood. The people, projects and financial success were everything I had wanted when starting the firm. But one late-night photoshoot at 2am at the theme park, I saw the maintenance crew sweeping park maps that guests had thrown on the ground. I had created those park maps…and that trash!
It deeply affected me, and I vowed to “save the trees” and do something else with my life.
Doane: What is one thing you wish everyone knew about olive oil?
Stephan: I wish people knew the difference between healthy and unhealthy fats. There is so much false information about fats out there, and just the word “fat” freaks people out. If everyone had two tablespoons of Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO) daily, they would be so much healthier! Sure it’s 240 calories of “fat”… but our brains, muscles and tummies would love us because it’s the kind of fat that is healthy for our skin and hair and actually has positive digestive qualities and antioxidants.
Doane: You mention how olive oil can be very beneficial for our health. What is a common misconception about olive oil you want to correct?
Stephan: Over 70% of oils that say “Extra Virgin First Cold Pressing” are not. They are cut with other oils, or they are old and rancid. I received my Olive Oil Sommelier Certification two years ago so I could explain the difference…and make sure my own practices and products are what we say they are! A real EVOO will have a fresh fruity flavor up front, mid-tones on the palate, and a distinctive finish of herbaceousness or pepper. It will also heat to about 400 degrees, not around 200 like the store-bought oils. That’s why they tell you on so many cooking shows not to cook with EVOO — that’s a major fallacy. Why do you think food in Italy and Greece tastes so good? They fry and use EVOO for everything! It’s a key element of the Mediterranean diet. [Doane: The Mediterranean diet was established by a global team of health experts as an eating plan that has been linked to low rates of chronic disease and higher than average adult life expectancy.]
Doane: How are you continuing your commitment to wellness while maintaining your original values?
Stephan: One thing I am thrilled about is a new partnership with Krystalán, a global music executive and daughter of the legendary Greek multi-platinum composer Yanni. We are releasing a limited-edition Extra Virgin Olive Oil together, and, as Krystalán said, “We Greeks have long understood the health benefits of ‘liquid gold.’ It is the life-force that is used in everything we do. From healthy cooking, to beauty, to restoring a healthy body, mind and soul.”
Doane: What has been the hardest aspect about your career? The most rewarding?
Stephan: All the physical work — and not making as much money as I used to make in the design business. But that’s also the most rewarding part — so on any given day, it’s all an oxymoron. It has taken me over 20 years to finally find balance between work and the rest of my life. I try to take a week off about every six weeks now to “get my life back”…and it works!
People have no idea what it means to farm two acres mostly alone, design product packaging, maintain a website, run retail and shipping operation, order bottles and caps, manage the harvest and production of so many products, be open to the public on a property on which you live, juggle finances, and deal with climate change! And that’s the short list!
Doane: What is your favorite quote?
Stephan: Oh, without a doubt: “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” Mahatma Gandhi.
Doane: What advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs who want to pursue their passions while creating change?
Stephan: Especially during this pandemic, there are a lot of “closet entrepreneurs” out there. Go for it! I believe in following your intuition and doing what you love in order to attain a balanced and happy life. At the end of our days, we’re not going to wish we’d worked harder or had more money to spend. We’re going to remember the love we have for life and the loving relationships we’ve created.