Spring's arrival has us thinking of our beginnings. Seventeen years ago, Jim Henry planted the first of what would become 40,000 olive trees in Carrizo Springs, Texas. Texas Olive Ranch has since blossomed and grown into the largest producer of extra virgin olive oil in all of Texas.
But how did Jim achieve this? And how does our Olive Ranch maintain its founding family values as we grow?
We believe you should know the story behind everything you eat: where your money goes when you shop, who the individuals you’re supporting are, and what standards they’re committed to.
Read on to learn about our founder, Jim, and rest assured that our extra virgin olive oil is not only pure in taste but pure of heart.
The Early Years
Jim was destined to be a farmer. He smiles when he tells the story: “You know, when I was ten years old, living in Nevada, the schools made us take aptitude tests. The results of my test predicted that I should be a farmer.”
He had other plans for his life at that age, however. He worked long hours at his grandparents dairy farm in Wisconsin all through his childhood and didn’t plan to follow in their footsteps. Splitting his time between his hometown of Fort Worth and the farm, Jim developed an entrepreneurial spirit, the knowledge, and the work ethic necessary to run a farm.
He led a successful career in retail before coming back to his roots. Once he realized his true passion for olive oil, he traveled the world acquiring insights and learning from experts. He traveled extensively around the Mediterranean, to the birthplaces of olive oil in Italy, Spain, and Greece. He acquired the knowledge and the skills to cultivate different varieties of olive trees.
But realizing his vision still took some trial and error. Jim first bought land near Marble falls and Devine, Texas. The land was too wet and the climate too cold, and one winter a freeze killed the trees. This only made Jim more determined, and he learned from his mistakes.
The early foundation began when Jim met Don Delanardes, a third generation American-Italian and olive grower in Visalia, California. Delanardes became his mentor, and Jim learned heritage farming methods that he took back with him to Texas.
Founding Texas Olive Ranch
Jim learned about the agricultural history of Carrizo Springs and ventured that olive trees would flourish there. The area reminded him the Basque region of Southern Spain, famous for its Arbequina trees. He found four olive trees in Asherton that had been there for almost 100 years.
Southern Texas is located between the longitudinal parallels, 45th and 28th latitudes, that are fit for growing olives. Olive trees can grow in a wide range of terrain but need the perfect climate the flourish.
It turns out, Carrizo Springs was once known as a “poor man’s heaven” because the land was fertile and water, wildlife, and grazing land were abundant. By the Great Depression, drought hit and the land became deserted. Water all but disappeared and farming went with it.
Yet, Jim was willing to bet the land remained fertile.
While many others doubted Jim and the potential production of olive oil in Texas, Jerry Farrell and his wife Penny believed in the region’s potential. They too believed in the land of Texas.
Jerry Farrell had read about people who had started planting olive trees in Texas and become intrigued; he’d been considering starting a venture to fill his time after retiring, and investing in olive trees would be a way to honor his Italian roots and his grandparents’ farm.
The Farrells backed Jim, becoming partners, and helped his dream get off the ground.
With proper water management and the help of visionaries like the Farrell’s, the Henry family has been able to make olive trees thrive on this land. In 2009, Jim’s first Arbequina trees finally blossomed! He proved that South Texas could cultivate olives. We pressed these new olives, and the result was the truest and most delicious extra virgin Olive Oil ever produced in Texas. This was when Jim knew he had something!
Texas Olive Ranch Today
Texas Olive Ranch is now home to the largest crop of extra virgin olive oil in the Southern United States. We now produce 25,000 gallons of olive oil a year. In 2015, we expanded our business to beautiful Victoria, Texas, where 380 acres will eventually be home to a total of 300,000 trees.
Providing our customers with the most authentic and purest extra virgin olive oil anywhere remains our number one passion. Despite our growth, Texas Olive Ranch remains a family farm run by Jim, his sons Josh (“ tree wrangler”), and Matt. We remain committed to integrity and a tradition of doing things right. While dishonesty and product adulteration have become a common practice in the olive oil industry, we refuse to take part in anything that's not honest.
We also maintain a strong belief in honoring the land of Texas. We get back what we put in. We do everything possible to leave as small a footprint as possible in order to express our gratitude. We feed our leftover olive mash to our ranch animals, who in turn naturally fertilize the orchard. Our olive oil is 100% GMO-free and grown with only natural methods, absolutely no chemicals or pesticides.
The Olives We're Currently Growing
Currently, we’re growing six different varietals of olives at our Texas Olive Ranch. The varietals include Arbequina, Koroneiki, Picual, Arbosana, Frantoio, and Coratina.
Arbequina is one of the most popular types of olives and is most commonly from Spain. Arbequina olive trees are resilient and are able to adapt to different environmental conditions, which is why Jim chose this variety to plant first in Texas’ warm climate.
Arbequina olive oil has a ripe, pungent aroma and a fruity, peppery, creamy taste. It is extremely versatile but especially excellent for vinaigrettes.
In Greece, the Koroneiki is considered “the queen of olives.” This variety has been cultivated for over 3,000 years. Jim chose to transplant this grape for its rich green color and its aromatic properties.
It is smaller in size than Arbequinas and requires extra labor and love, but the high quality and unique olive oil it produces are well worth it. It has a fruity scent and a deep peppery taste. The high concentrations of polyphenols and oleic acid in Koroneiki olive oil grants it numerous health benefits.
Picual olives are the most widely grown olives for olive oil production, found primarily in Jaén, Spain. They’re packed with natural antioxidants, are buttery in taste and smooth in texture. Picual olive oil shines as a replacement in recipes that call for butter.
The Arbosana olive is also native to Spain. Although it’s similar in appearance to the Arbequina, the trees are smaller, and the fruit matures much later and is more robust. Arbosana trees thrive in hot climates, so they’re perfect for Texas.
Arbosana olive oil is complex and bright green in color. It has a nutty and robust flavor of strong pepper, almonds and fresh green tomatoes, so it’s especially good on bruschetta and biscotti. It also pairs well with red meats and chocolate.
The Frantoio olive is native to Tuscany, Italy. Frantoio olive oil is a balanced mixture of fruit, bitterness and pungency, It has floral, grass, and artichoke notes with some almond and green apple flavor. It’s the main component of the famous Tuscan blended olive oils.
Coratina is another important Italian varietal, especially common in Puglia. It is also grown in Argentina, Australia, and Northern California. Its high levels of polyphenols make for a robust olive oil that’s herbaceous and grassy with notes of green almond and cinnamon.