Olives harvested in Sumter County
First crop culminates five-year wait
By LEILA S. CASE
AMERICUS — Where peaches once grew abundantly in orchards on the McNeill-Kinnebrew farm on New Era Road, thousands of olive trees successfully grow today.
Earlier this week, Easton Kinnebrew, businessman and sixth-generation farmer, harvested the first crop of olives successfully grown in Sumter County from orchards on the family farm.
“We’re really excited,” said Kinnebrew. “We’ve worked five years toward this day.”
Kinnebrew, 44, has 13,000 olive trees growing on 20 acres. Ten acres were planted in 2011, and the fruit from these trees was harvested this week and already cold pressed into olive oil.
We should have had a harvest last fall, but the previous winter was too cold so we had to wait until this year,” explains Kinnebrew. He planted another 10 acres in olive trees in 2013.
“It takes five years from the time the trees are planted to reach harvest,” said Kinnebrew.
He grows three varietals that he said consist primarily of arbequina olives, five percent arbosana and five percent koroneiki. And he constantly nurtures the trees to develop a healthy crop.
“Olive trees, like any crop, take a good bit of time and care — pruning, weeding, watering, spraying for disease and fertilizing to keep them healthy enough to bear a good yield,” he said.
Kinnebrew said the idea of raising olive trees just happened.
“I wanted something related to agriculture that would not take a large investment in equipment and a lot of time away from my construction business. I thought about cows but my mother said she didn’t like that idea because if they got out of the pasture she didn’t want to herd them,” he said with a laugh.
He searched the Internet for a farm product that would suit his needs and became interested in growing olive trees for commercial use. He talked to Georgia Olive Farms in Lakeland, Georgia, and with their encouragement he planted and developed the crop. He sells the product to Georgia Olive Farms and they cold press the fruit into olive oil, bottle and market it under their brand label. It is available from their website: www.georgiaolivefarms.com and at fine food and specialty shops.
Kinnebrew’s parents — Hulme and Janet McNeill Kinnebrew — whose home is in eyesight of the olive orchards, have been interested in their son’s venture since the beginning.
“We’ve enjoyed watching the progress of the olive trees grow and develop over the past five years,” said Hulme Kinnebrew. “It’s a change from row crops that once grew on this property and something that’s never been done successfully in Sumter County. Hopefully, it is the start of something big. Easton wanted to get more involved with farming and have time for the construction business at the same time. Farming is in his blood, having inherited the trait from the McNeill family that settled this land in 1826.”