It may surprise you to know that in 1791, Thomas Jefferson brought olive trees to the Southeastern United States with hopes of creating a crop of the plant that he felt “contributes the most to the happiness of mankind.” Unfortunately, Jefferson’s crops failed, but there was some success growing olives along the coast of Georgia near Savannah and up into coastal South Carolina. An old olive grove was even discovered near the lighthouse on Georgia’s beloved St. Simon’s Island. Alas, the last groves of the coastal olives were decimated during Hurricane No. 7 in 1898. It seemed that olive production in Georgia was at a standstill.
During the drought of 2000, however, three different sets of people began efforts to reclaim olive production in Georgia. State Legislator, Mary Squires, was looking for a way to boost Georgia’s agriculture and through some research determined that the climate and soil quality in Southwest Georgia is very similar to that of the Mediterranean. Around the same time, a Georgia blueberry farmer named Shawn Davis saw a surplus of blueberries in his future and wanted to begin diversifying with new crops. Meanwhile, Jason & Sam Shaw, blueberry farming brothers in Lakeland, were looking for ways to innovate. They realized that they could use the same equipment to harvest olives that they used for harvesting their blueberries. The Georgia Olive Growers Association was formed, and by the late 2000’s, olive crops were becoming established and Georgia Olive Farms, as the Shaw’s business became known, had built a mill to cold press the olives. Georgia Olive Oil was born.
The Shaws primarily grow Arbequina olives, a varietal grown often in California and in the Catalonia region of Spain which produces superior quality oil. They also grow a Grecian variety called Koroneiki and another Spanish variety called Arbosana to create a blend with maximum flavor and yield. Each year, a small batch of pure Arbequina oil is released, but they primarily sell a chef’s blend which combines all three varietals. The oil is green, and buttery with a fruity finish and is great for drizzling on a fish or vegetable dish or just for dunking a piece of fresh warm focaccia in. In addition to harvesting olives for oil, the Shaws sell the young trees to other farmers trying to get their start, provides educational resources for them, and have aims for agritourism options in the future. The Georgia Olive Growers Association hopes to spread the word about olive production and get more farmers involved in cultivating this crop. Take a look at the beautiful video below from DT Productions to take a glimpse of the Georgia Olive Farms daily operations.
At Heirloom, we sell Georgia Olive Oil alongside warm focaccia as a small plate, and we also have bottles of the Chef’s Blend for sale for $30.