Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Olive Oil - How local is local?

Something I often struggle with is "how local is local?" A perfect example is olive oil. I've been buying most of my olive oil from a woman that lives here in town. I've posted about Amici Oil and Carolyn Adair before, about how her dream was, upon retirement, to own land in Italy. Her dream became a reality as she transformed a overgrown property into a successful olive grove. Sure, she lives here in Bryan-College Station and sells her oils in local stores like The Farm Patch, Brazos Natural Foods, and our farmers market. But the olives are grown and pressed in Tuscany. Yeah, that would be Italy. The olives aren't local, but both she and the natural food store are. So am I really buying local?

Then in November, at one of Home Sweet Farm's Market Days, I found out about Sandy Oaks Olive Orchard. Sandy Oaks is about 200 miles away, just south of San Antonio. That's pure Texas olive oil, but it has to be shipped to me and the money is going into some one else's community (though it is still in Texas).

So here I was, running low on the Amici olive oil (I gave my last jar away as a holiday gift) and decided to give Sandy Oaks a shot. Ordering from their website was easy and since shipping was the same no matter how many bottles I purchased, I added four to my "shopping cart." The bottles arrived in two days along with a brochure telling me a little more about Sandy Oaks, home to 10,000 trees (wow!).  Eager to give it a taste test, I added a drizzle to a stir-fry dish that night at dinner. The oil was delicious, though distinctly different from Amici, as it should be. Deciding between one or the other is impossible. I truly enjoy them both. Hmm. Stalemate. 

A little more about Sandy Oaks: Olive oil isn't their only product. They also sell jars of olives (my dad got one of those for Christmas), a variety of skin care products (soaps, salves, scrubs, etc), olive leaf jelly, truffles (who can argue with truffles?), and if you like, you can even buy an olive tree. Sandy Oaks hosts orchard tours, but at 200 miles from home, it doesn't really fit into the Brazos Locavore one-day field trip plan. But you can be sure that the next time I am in the San Antonio area, I'll be checking them out.

The good news, my fellow locavores, is that if you're from Texas, there's another choice in olive oil, making eating local easier than ever. The dilemma, however, still stands. Which oil is more local? Which choice is greener? Which is better for my community? Truly this is one of those shades of grey; one of those choices I struggle over in the pursuit of mindfulness. I don't know the answer and in reality, I think they are both local and positive purchases for different reasons. There's just no wrong choice here. 

But share with me, if you would, your thoughts.  Would you consider one of these products the greener, more local choice? How do you make mindful decisions when the truth is "in the grey?"


Michelle said...

I think you just have to do the best you can. I suppose the San Antonio oil uses much less fuel to ship, since it is closer. I am a foodie, so I love olive oil from Italy, but if I could find something local, I would give it a shot. I am encouraged to hear that you like the local one, too.

Maybe just split the difference and do a little of both!

Chile said...

Michelle makes a good point. Both oils are shipped, either to you or the vender. The one from San Antonio is shipped a shorter distance, so perhaps it's the better choice? I haven't tried the local Arizona olive oil yet, from about 100 miles away. If we're still here when I run out of what I have on hand, I'll give them a shot. (I don't use much oil, though, so it will take a long time. LOL)

Kori ~Q~ Whited said...

I've been reading for a while, but don't think I've ever posted before. I have, however, added several of your baking recipes to my repertoire to RAVE reviews from my family. So thank you for inspiring me - I never thought I could be a successful from-scratch baker, but now I am!

I was inspired to post because I wanted to let you know there's actually a place near Wimberly called Bella Vista Ranch - they grow & press their own olive oil and it's very tasty. It's also at least a tad closer to you than San Antonio. I live just northeast of Austin, so we're actually going to make the drive out there on our way to visit family one weekend soon, to take the full tour. Their website is if you want to check them out.

Seems like olives/olive oil are becoming more prevalent in and around the Hill Country, which I guess makes sense since the climate is so similar to what you get in parts of the Mediterranean (minus the sea air, of course).

Farmer's Daughter said...

I've been having a problem with olive oil. Um, I don't think olives grow around here. And if they do, I don't know of anywhere that sells it.

I would say in your situation, the 200 mile one is probably the better choice in terms of local food. But if you have a friendship with this other woman, then I'd want to buy some of hers, too. Maybe hers is more of a special occasion one. I don't know. This is tough!

At least you have options around there, I might have to switch back to lard, haha!

Heather @ SGF said...

Michelle - That's probably what I'll do, a little of both since I'd love to support everyone.

Chile - San Antonio is definitely closer. I forgot to mention this but the only problem I have with the oil is it's in clear jars. Isn't olive oil supposed to be in dark jars because sunlight makes it go bad faster? Anyway, I ended up just pouring the San Antonio oil into one of my dark Amici Oil bottles with the special olive oil spout. Maybe there is the best of both worlds in here somewhere :)

Kori-Q-Whited - You're right! Awesome! Wimberly is only about 150 miles from Bryan. That's perfect. Thanks so much for bringing it to my attention. I'll add it to my resource lists on the blog and try them out next time. Thanks!!!!

I'm so glad you felt inspired to try some new things! I've never been much of a cooker or baker before so it was amazing to me not just how much I could do from scratch, but that I would actually enjoy it as well. I'm excited to hear you are having the same experience.

Farmers Daughter - I learned this from our recent California vacation. If you can't get it at home, go on vacation to where you can buy it local :) Or I don't suppose you have any southern family who could get you a nice bottle of olive oil for your birthday or anything?

Crunchy Chicken said...

Cool! I'm glad you found some local growers. I know you can grow olives in Seattle (Arbequina olives, that is) but I don't think anyone is making olive oil out of it and selling it.

Holli said...

To me, it depends on what you're trying to accomplish... Are you trying to support local business, Texas agriculture or be more green? (Or a broad combination of all?)
If you're goal is to eat local no matter what (to avoid fuel emissions and what-not), then to me it would be neither. You would find whatever cooking oil is raised and processed locally, whether it be vegetable, hazelnuts, kumquats, whatever (honestly, I have no clue :) ) and use only that product.
That would be an interesting thing to know...
At any rate, I'm not that much of a purist. Besides, I love olive oil, and would have a tough time substituting!
But to lean on the side of being green, I'd opt for the Texas-grown.

ttammylynn said...

I think that there is something to the personal touch. If you know someone who grew something and they bring it in their migrations, it somehow becomes local. For example, there is a salmon vendor through Market Days with Brad Stufflebeam, they live in Alaska part of the year and Texas part of the year. Alaskan salmon is one of the few kinds of fish you should eat, thus making Alaskan salmon into Texas salmon by default...kindda like the vacation clause of local eating. If you are making a trip, bringing local food from one locale to another means it is still local food although you are no longer there(as long as you aren't spending extra to transport it particularly--such as ordering extra through the mail after you leave, lol). Besides, it is about enjoying local food and forming relationships with local producers, not about over-analyzing a thing to death until you aren't happy with your perfectly good choices. Enjoy local food and live life better.

Heather @ SGF said...

Crunchy Chicken - I would never have guessed you can grow olives in Seattle. How cool! I think oil is kinda like honey in that each place's version tastes a little different. It would be interested to try a Seattle version if there is any out there. So do they just sell the olives or are the trees just on private land?

Holli - Hmm. Kumquat oil. Now THAT would be interesting :) My goals are pretty much all of the things you mentioned. I also try to be mindful, but at the same time, not psycho-ly so. Does that makes sense.

I've pretty much allowed myself a broader scope on things that are harder to find. Like in the winter, it's hard to find fruit within 100 miles (consistently enough to feed my fruit desires) so I allow myself anything from the state of Texas (I've been eating a lot of TX grapefruit). Most everything else comes well within 100 miles (probably less than 20) so I give myself a little lee-way from time to time. But in the mean time, another commenter recommended oil even closer (150 miles) so it's good I brought this up. I learn something in the process :)

Tammy - There are definitely time for exceptions (like vacations and such), but I think that when we take time to think about it, it means we are truly being mindful about our choices. Not that we need to lose sleep over it, but conscientiously making a choice one way or the other is, for me, part of living a more deliberate life. Oh, and I like your moto: "Enjoy local food and live life better!"

Crunchy Chicken said...

Yeah, I'm always eyeballing the Arbequina trees at my local nursery, but I don't know how large this particular variety gets (it doesn't say) and I hear they are pretty messy once they drop their fruit. Imagine a bunch of rotting AND oily fruit on the ground.

I don't know of anyone who sells them - the trees are on private residence lots as far as I know.

Beany said...

I'm finding that to be a hard question. There is this couple we met in West Virginia who own a cafe and offer organic/healthy/low sugar items like smoothies, cookies, muffins, in addition to grinding their own coffee and selling it which is a main source of their revenue. They invited us in even though they were closed and talked with us for several hours. I am now in San Diego and want to buy their coffee regularly (and give it as gifts as well as using it for myself) and be a regular customer they can rely on. The wife was in an accident and his bed ridden most of the time. So any money does help. So do I help out my local economy or help out someone who was very selfless and kind and welcoming when we needed it and turned out to be good friends for us?

I am leaning toward supporting them because I believe in helping friends first and also to continue the chain of love they shared with us. I can buy everything else locally, so if I buy in bulk it won't be as bad I suppose.

I feel that paying attention to my emotional take on a situation is as important as analyzing it from a logical perspective.

This is a good discussion!

Beany said...

Oh, as far as I know San Diego doesn't grow coffee beans. But the question I was dealing with was supporting fair trade from some based in SD vs. someone in WV.

ttammylynn said...

After you replied it occured to me that verified sources are more important to me than something just being local--for example, I could have a commercial dairy next door and still buy milk from Cameron because I know Alysha and the way she does things. I guess that is the point I was trying to make...just being close doesn't necessarily make it my pick, I am picky in numerous ways. The trick is just trying to utilize the best sources and support the locals as much as possible. Food is fun, or it should be. Oh, btw, I got some oranges and grapefruit in from South Tex, I'll try to call you over the next few days...

Heather @ SGF said...

Crunchy Chicken - It would be fun to try, but yeah, the kids playing out back in the the fallen, rotting olives... well, the image isn't pretty.

On the other hand, if you made your own oil, you could be "Crispy" Chicken for a change of pace :)

Beany - looking at Tammy's new comment (below yours), I think you are saying the same thing. There is a personal component to this too that can't be quantified. I think supporting that couple would be a wonderful and generous thing to do. And a beautiful way to build a relationship, you never know when you might wander that way again...

Tammy - Between you and Beany, I'm with you now and you are absolutely right. There is a personal component to this too. I've put all three of the olive oil options on the resource page, because anyone who uses this blog to find local sources may have different criteria for buying. Perhaps they don't know Carolyn from Amici Oil and would feel more comfortable buying from a TX company; perhaps they'd rather buy the oil from BNF where they are supporting a local resident and also a local business... whatever. We each have to make our own decisions. One isn't necessarily better than another, it's a matter of priority.

I was at BNF this morning and looked to see if they had either of the Texas grown olive oils and they didn't. Drat. I don't know which I'll buy next time I need oil. I'll let it simmer in my brain a bit :)

Holli said...

I agree with ttammylynn. I like knowing the grower/producer and having at least some basic knowledge about the integrity of the product. I strive to eat mostly local food, but I bend the rules on some items that aren't available here but that I consider staples.

Heather - I totally pulled kumquat out of my rear... :) but that would probably taste good.
Oh, and thanks for turning me onto TLC Farms. I found their products at Farm Patch the other night, and I just love the soap I purchased.

Heather @ SGF said...

Holli - I'm so glad you like the TLC soap! And it's good to know you can find them at the Farm Patch. I'll have to add that to my list. I didn't know they sold that kind of thing.

Jenelle said...

You might want to check if Messina Hof has any grapeseed oil. I've been using it because of its higher heat threshold (I've been told that when olive oil gets to a certain temp it becomes carcinogenic). I still use the olive oil for dressing and a topping on the roasted vegies.

Heather @ SGF said...

Jenelle - I'll have to look into the Mesina Hof option. I've not heard about them selling oil, but you never know.

As far as cooking with olive oil, as long as you don't heat higher than the smoke point, it's perfectly fine to cook with. In all the time I've been using olive oil, it's never been at the smoke point let alone go over it, so you should be fine.