By: Noelani Mathews
September 28, 2016
LAKELAND, Ga. (WCTV) -- It's harvest time at Georgia Olive Farms in Lakeland.
For weeks, they will be moving hundreds of acres of olives from the farm to the table.
Many will purchase the bottle of extra virgin olive oil, but they say it's what's inside that makes it a hot commodity.
"It's the straight olive oil that's made the right way, fresh," says Jason Shaw. "Freshness is the key and that's why our product is very sought after."
He started the farm with his brothers back in 2009.
The business claims they are the first to harvest the commercial crop east of the Mississippi.
Shaw says with Georgia's environment and the right treatment, olives can be successfully grown.
"We've never been able to taste this fresh of an olive oil product here until we started producing it locally," says Shaw.
Georgia Olive Farms started with 50 gallons of extra virgin olive oil in 2011, to last year producing 6,000.
They say, although it's a slow process, this year they expect to double that.
"When we started 99% of the olive oil in the U.S. was imported, and now we're down to about 97%. We're producing more of it domestically, but still the vast majority of it is imported," says Shaw.
That's why Australian grower Jim Rowntree says many people still don't know what a fresh olive oil tastes like.
"I suppose it's a grassy, slightly peppery," says Rowntree, with Long Ridge Olive Orchards in Australia.
"Once you taste a good, fresh olive oil, you're sold. It's so much different," adds Shaw.
Rowntree has visited Georgia Olive Farms for the past three years to discuss the best practices with local growers.
He says the fresh product made in Georgia is a notable difference, and looks forward to their expansion.
"It's surprising that America doesn't make all that much olive oil yet, so I think there's certainly a lot of room for expansion here," says Rowntree.
So far, Georgia Olive Farms has expanded to more than 30 growers across the South.
As they continue to expand even more, Shaw says one of his goals is to open a shop for tourism and education.
He thinks it's important to teach young people about Georgia's farming and agriculture.
It's a developing industry, committed to keeping products farm-fresh and local.