America's Olive Oil Comeback?

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The United States loves olive oil, yet produces almost none of it. Now, for the first time in a century, Georgia has begun planting olive groves, The Washington Post reports, with big plans to capitalize on the oil market. Twelve farmers have established 95 acres of groves over the past three years with plans to expand. The East Coast once grew olive trees in abundance, from the 1600s till after the Civil War. Agricultural and labor shifts combined with a turn-of-the-century hurricane to end olive groves in Georgia—until recently. The new local product promises a blend of quality, sustainability, and considerable profits for Georgia:

Weather and good fortune permitting, Georgia's 2011 olives will be turned into liquid gold, not brined in jars. The statistics the Georgians like to recite hold a world of promise: The United States is the third-largest consumer of olive oil in the world. Consumption rose almost 8 percent from 2008 to 2009. And perhaps most important, 99 percent of the olive oil consumed by Americans comes from other countries: about 70 million liters in 2009 that cost us $700 million. (Most of it is labeled "extra-virgin.")

California olive oil accounts for the remaining 1 percent, and the Golden State processed 850,000 gallons in 2009. Yet East Coast consumers use more olive oil than the rest of the nation combined, a fact that should inspire Hawkinsville, Ga., businessman and new olive farmer Robert Krueger.

To Krueger, the appeal of Georgia oil on this coast is that it will be fresher: local and sustainable, with a low carbon footprint. "More importantly, we'll be able to tell what good olive oil tastes like," he said.

Read the full story at The Washington Post.

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John Hendel is a writer based in Washington, DC, and a former producer at The Atlantic.

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