Q and A with Sarah Vachon, Founder of Citizens of Soil

by Jul 15, 2023

What do you love most about the brand you’ve created?

I’m really driven to support farmers. I think these people, who not only feed us but also are stewards of our land, are people we should champion. They need a better seat at the table.

I like having their name on the Citizens of Soil bottles, shining the spotlight on what makes them special, and telling their stories. 

I also love that, quite organically, I started working with women in olive oil. It wasn’t the intention at the start, but it’s now something we work towards at every stage of our business—how we can make sure women are at least 50% of our partners and supplier network.

Have you always wanted to work in this industry?

I don’t think I even thought about the olive oil category before I dove into it.

But now that I’m here, I can’t imagine my life any other way. It’s truly a spiritual connection and feels like everything I worked on up to this point led me to it.

What are you most proud of? 

When our farmers share an update of something they were able to do because we pay them what they’re worth! They’re re-investing in their land, and that’s the whole point here.

Also, having our oil on menus in Michelin-starred restaurants, like Chantelle Nicholson’s Apricity in Mayfair which is leading the sustainability movement in hospitality is a dream come true.

What advice would you give to someone keen to start a business but unsure where to begin?

One of my top-tips is to start doing founder one-to-ones. 

Most of us don’t know what we’re doing, and certainly none of us have all the answers. But collectively, we can learn so much from each other.

I don’t mean to knock on the doors of larger businesses, I mean find the other founders who are also starting up and make friends. They’ll be your lifeline.

Who is one of your biggest inspirations – either professionally or personally?

My mom. She’s got one of the best work ethics I’ve ever seen and she’s extremely resilient.

I’m also inspired by the women I source who are farming and thriving—often in very rural, difficult situations up against climate swings, cultural issues, and unhelpful government red tape. Yet they make insanely-delicious extra virgin olive oils with such care. I’m quite in awe of them every day, and feel fortunate to represent them.

If you could attribute your success to anyone who gave you your big break?

My co-founder (and husband) gave me the courage and support to quit my job and dive into the world of olive oil. He’s already an accomplished entrepreneur, so he’s become quite the commercial mentor to me on this journey.

What’s the hardest thing about your job?

Packaging is a frustrating part of the business. The combination of being beautiful, sustainable, and strong while protecting our precious oil is all key.

But the most heart-breaking side is any oil spill or loss! It’s a fresh fruit juice that’s different with each harvest. Ours are also small-batch, which means they are irreplaceable. Something I constantly have to tell all our partners (from packaging, to couriers, to our bottling facility): treat it with care and don’t f*ck it up.

Which part of your job do you most enjoy?

Getting to sip my way across the Mediterranean to find the best olive oils.

Specifically, being a part of the magic that is the olive harvest—an ancient tradition happening in these exact same parts of the world since antiquity. It’s a beautiful connection with nature, and when that fresh, colourful oil comes out of the spout—it’s life changing.

Do you find it easy to balance work and play?

No way. But you have to prioritise it. Make rules and stick to them as much as possible.

My husband is my co-founder, and olive oil runs through so many aspects of our life.

But I am religious about switching off at set times. I don’t read my phone from bed, and I don’t check emails late at night or first thing in the morning. 

And on our sourcing trips, we sometimes try to tack on a weekend or extra day where we can actually go beyond the groves and have a little city break or something just for us to enjoy.

Oh, and a final tip—celebrate everything! Start-ups are messy and chaotic, with lots of setbacks. When you have a win—really live it up.

About Emily Eaves

Co Founder and Editor at To Work or Play, Emily has been Freelance Copywriting for over 10 years. She is passionate about food, drink, travel, design and finding ways to keep her two children out of trouble.

With a background in Luxury Restaurant and Hotel PR, Emily moved from London to Dorset in 2019. She now spends weekends at the beach and daydreams about her vegetable garden.