Special Report: There's oil in Georgia

Some growers in Lanier County are creating a new industry, olive oil.

They had their first olive harvest in October. It was the first time since the 1800's that olives were commercially harvested on the east coast. Back then, Spanish settlers harvested table olives.

The Shaw family is using their olives for olive oil. The growers say A lot of restaurants that focus on using locally produced foods are interested in Georgia Olive oil but to produce more olive oil they need more farmers to catch on.

Jason Shaw went to Italy on a study abroad trip in 1996 and came back a changed man, never able to get olive oil off his mind.  "It just sparked a curiosity in me that just made me think why can't we do this here?" he said.

So he, his brother Sam Shaw, and his cousin Kevin Shaw researched the crop making visits out west learning as much as they could about the crop. The three planted the first olives in 2008.

"When we started seeing the success they were having in California we were able to look at what they were doing and decided to take a shot at it," said Jason Shaw.

In October the olive growers had their first harvest, the first commercial harvest on the east coast since the 1800s. Tons of olives were shipped to Texas and processed into olive oil.

"It's the epitome of freshness," said Kevin Shaw.

"We've proven we can grow the olives. now we just need enough farmers to plant where we can get some oil," said Sam Shaw.

The buzz is building. These educators toured the farm to learn more, and a lot of farmers at the Sunbelt Ag Expo showed interest. Shaw says more farmers need to plant olive trees to justify building a processing facility for olive oil in South Georgia that would create jobs. Sam Shaw calls north Florida and South Georgia the olive belt.

"We've got probably 70 acres going in next year in North Florida and probably 60 more acres in Georgia so far so we're just encouraging farmers to look into and there's no other market in the world this large," said Sam Shaw.

Besides growing Georgia olives, Jason is a state representative and owner of an insurance company. Sam is a banker and spends lots of time in the olive tree nursery.

"It's my stress release from the down economy and the banking industry," Sam said.

He ships trees to farmers and even folks who want to have an olive tree in their yard. The olive tree is fast growing. A tree this size could reach six feet in just one year.

"Olives just grow so good in our soil," Sam said.

And Jason Shaw says his brother keeps Georgia Olive Farms in good shape and he's banking on his cousin Kevin's green thumb. "He's won all kinds of production awards in cotton and peanuts and I'm banking on his doing the same with the olives".

We caught up with Kevin Shaw as he harvested peanuts.  "My wife and I do a little grits business and we've met some chefs through that deal and that's been pretty helpful in getting the word out."

they've bottled up some oil and they've been hitting the road to talk to chefs in cities across the southeast who focus on using locally produced foods.

"It's such a healthy alternative to other oils I think the future bodes well for olive production in the southeast," Kevin Shaw said.

And the return of olives to Georgia has created a new industry of fresh Georgia olive oil.

The olive growers say a restaurant called Husk is already cooking with their Georgia olive oil.

The Shaw's joined George Hughes and Berrien Sutton of Homerville, to form Georgia Olive Farms in 2009 as a cooperative association to develop the olive industry in Georgia and surrounding states.

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