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Local Spotlight: Georgia Olive Farms

End Your Dependence on Foreign Oil—Olive Oil, That Is!

Natural Times, April/May/June 2013

By Sandy Beck

Americans have learned that olive oil, in addition to being delicious, can lower the risk of heart disease by reducing bad cholesterol levels and pump powerful antioxidants through the body. We are not only cooking with olive oil and drizzling it on everything from salads to roasted corn, but a dish of solidified, refrigerated olive oil has replaced butter as the schmear of choice.

But from where did your oil travel? Probably Italy, France, Spain or even Australia. Thanks to Georgia growers, you now have a local option, handcrafted Georgia Olive Farms extra-virgin olive oil.

When you think of Georgia crops, peaches and peanuts probably come to mind. Surprisingly, olives were one of the Peachtree State’s first crops.

When British settlers arrived in Georgia in 1736, they found olives and orange trees growing near the Saint Simons lighthouse, most likely planted by Spanish colonists and Franciscan friars 150 years earlier. Later, Thomas Jefferson arranged for the shipment of olive seedlings from France to South Carolina and Georgia. The South Carolina seedlings froze, but those in Georgia took root, and so did the Georgia olive industry.

Fast-forward about 270 years. Jason Shaw, son of a Georgia farmer, travels to Verona, Italy, as part of a University of Georgia study abroad program. He notices that the South Georgia climate has a lot in common with the Italian climate—which produces the world’s finest olive oils. When he returns home, the Shaw family decides to experiment with growing olives.

In 2009, Jason, his brother Sam, their cousin Kevin and friend Berrien Sutton formed the cooperative Georgia Olive Farms in Lakeland, Georgia near Valdosta.

Just two years later, Georgia Olive Farms conducted the first commercial harvest of olives east of the Mississippi River since the late 1800s. The olives harvested were pressed into extra-virgin olive oil and sold under the Georgia Olive Farms label (GOF).

An article in The Olive Oil Times reported that olive consultant Nancy Ash conducted a taste test and called the extra-virgin olive oil “sweet, smooth and soft.”

GOF is working with other olive farmers and investors to provide sustainable, locally harvested and produced olive oil to east coast consumers. GOF’s efforts stand to significantly reduce the carbon footprint for olive oil consumed on the east coast.

Georgia Olive Farms, now a cooperative of about 10 regional olive growers, wants to help build the Georgia olive industry and is offering assistance to other farmers.

You can purchase GOF’s Chef’s Blend Extra-virgin Olive Oil at New Leaf Market in a 16.9 ounce/500 ml glass bottle.

The Shaw family is nothing if not diversified. Among other crops, Kevin and his wife Gayla also produce a naturally grown white corn and grind their own grits. After family and friends raved about its unique flavor, they began to sell Gayla’s Grits, available at New Leaf Market in three-quarter pound and two pound bags in the refrigerated bulk section.

So the next time you shop at New Leaf Market, you have two new ways to shop locally and to give your taste buds a special South Georgia treat.

2014 Business of the Year2014 Locally Owned Business of the Year