We recently drove out to Dripping Springs TX to meet the producers of the award-winning oils from Texas Hill Country Olive Oil Co.
And, although it was a scorching hot morning, the constant breeze kept us cooled while we toured the beautiful estate owned and operated by father and daughter John and Cara Gambini.
The Farm to Table Movement
Before we talk specifically about the informative tour we received from John - or the gorgeous oil they're producing - it's worth spending a few brief moments on the growing farm-to-table consumer demand.
Undoubtedly, the single largest benefit of farm-to-table has been the demand for high quality ingredients from local growers.
What many experience simply as better tasting, healthier ingredients, highlighted on the menus of cafes and restaurants, is actually an extremely important aspect of the relationship between the producer and the consumer.
John spent time talking about this, both directly and indirectly. It's easy for us as consumers to complain about the lack of high quality ingredients - to yearn for the "good ol days" - or to cry foul that we're no longer able to trust the large companies we buy from.
Yet, we rarely spend more than a few seconds to recognize that when we choose to support local growers, we have the power to cast a vote for our farmers and our neighbors.
This is something that is gaining momentum with the farm-to-table movement - and that's absolutely a good thing - but there are many other ways in which we can (and should) be supporting local producers.
For instance, many people who care about the food they consume spend time to educate themselves on ingredients and health benefits. They shop at farmers markets and eat at restaurants that buy from nearby farmers.
But why don't we demand the same care from the products we put on our bodies everyday? Why hasn't there been an equally important movement towards "farm-to-skin"?
John told us a story of how, in villages throughout Spain and Italy, the people who lived there always knew when the olive oil producers would be harvesting. They were so passionate about the oils, they knew the best thing to do was to buy the oil as close to harvest time as possible. So most of the village would show up the same day that the oil was harvested and bottled, and they'd buy an entire years supply to hold them over until the next harvest.
The villagers would use the oil for eating and cooking, but it was also used for skin, and hair, and sometimes as fuel (and likely in countless other ways).
This connection between the local consumers and producers is one I'm sure John Gambini would love to see replicated in our country.
Farm-to-Table and the demand it's creating is a great thing, but it's simply one small step. The larger goal should be to have a connection with the producers that surround us, and to understand that supporting local growers - knowing the makers - is the only way to guarantee we're consuming and using ingredients that are actually good for us.
Why Not All Olive Oil is the Same
Back to the olive oil - that gorgeous, delicious oil.
As we walked out into the dusty orchard, John spoke about the land, the soil, the wind and the trees they've planted.
Texas Hill Country Olive Oil grows mostly Arbequina and Mission varieties. (I believe they are also growing Pendolino and possibly one or two others as well.) The trees themselves are beautiful. Row after row, spaced out in a manner that makes it obvious that this orchard is hands-on.
Simply put - they're doing things the right way here. Sometimes you hear that and wonder what it means; if you can, drive out to the Gambini's property and you'll know.
John speaks in blatant admiration for those who mentored him, and told us about how he is the only farm in Texas that helps other growers press their olives, allowing them time on his machines. He's genuinely interested in seeing the industry and community grow.
And why wouldn't he be?
We talked for a few minutes about the quality of oil being produced here, especially in relation to the oil you're likely buying and consuming.
The point that jumped out - international olive oil producers really have no standards that they hold themselves to. You could very well be buying olive oil that is mostly canola or some other oil.
We even heard about the use of lamp oil as a filler.
Olive oil is a product many of us consume on a regular basis. It's also commonly found in many skin, hair, and beauty products.
But, when was the last time you stopped to ask WHERE that oil is coming from? Shouldn't this be far more transparent?
All this reiterates the need to know your producers.
And we're very happy to now know Texas Hill Country Olive Oil Co. and the Gambinis.
Texas Hill County Olive Oil Co. is producing award winning oils. If you're in the Dripping Springs, TX area, please stop in. You can also purchase their olive oil online.