Monday, May 14, 2007

Farmer Teams Up With Raley's to Sell Home-Grown Oilive Oil

Farmer Teams Up With Raley's to Sell Home-Grown Oilive Oil
By Ines Bebea

John Fadhl, owner of Jovia Farms in Dixon, recently began selling his Jovia Groves Olive Oil at local Raleyƕs supermarkets. (Photo by Christine Baker)

DIXON - Starting a business requires a lot of perseverance and more than a pinch of luck.

But in his short tenure as a farmer, luck, networking and timing has landed John Fadhl' s Jovia Groves Olive Oil on the shelves of six Raley's supermarkets in Solano County this month.

While Spain, Tunisia and Italy are the top producers of olive oil in the world, California olive oil production has more than doubled during the past three years. California farmers produced 400,000 gallons of olive oil in 2002-03, according to "California and World Olive Oil Trends," a 2004 report from the University of California, Davis.

Fadhl's business venture from his Jovia farms is a small but growing segment of California olive oil producers in the U.S., who are competing with the $1 billion annual imports of olive oil from Europe.

"What Jovia Farms has accomplished is a great example of value added crops," said Larry Clement, director emeritus of the University of California Cooperative Extension. "By producing the olive oil from his own olives, he has a bigger role in the profits of the crop and the final product. As the agricultural market continues to change, it forces farmers to become more involved in order to survive."

The economic impact isn't only enjoyed by the farmer, but the county as a whole, Clement added. As the product goes from the field, to processing plant, to retail store and finally reaches the consumer, it is all money that stays in the state.

"By the time the product reaches the consumer, it is part of a $1.5 billion industry," Clement said. "The agricultural impact of Solano County is on par with Travis Air Force Base. While not every crop has value added potential, like grapes for wine and olives for olive oil, they do create jobs and net worth to the county."

When Jon and Sylvia Fadhl bought their 43 acres of land in Dixon in 2001, farming was not on the top of the list. The one thing they knew for sure is that they wanted a lot of open space, and as luck would have it, their land was ideal for growing olives. The Fadhls did research online, attended seminars, took a tasting course at Santa Rosa Junior College, and were in contact with the University of California Cooperative extensions in Yolo and Solano counties.

"While I was researching online, I found a nursery that offered a field trip to watch how the trees were cared for and how the harvest was done," said Fadhl. "At that field trip, by luck a couple of UC advisors were there, so I got to pick their brains during the entire day."

Armed with the knowledge of what their chosen crop could do, the Fadhls began planting the farm in 2003, and have added 2,000 trees per year, to its current total of 9,000 trees. The couple, some hired laborers, and college students from California State University, Sacramento, helped plant the crop but the couple alone does the pruning and upkeep.

"My wife commutes to San Francisco every day, and I commute to San Jose," he said. "We did our work once we got home until the sun went down, and after that I took care of the paperwork for the farm."

Fadhl attributed a lot of his success to the advice and guidance he received from the UC Cooperative Extension advisers, and in particular Mario Moratorio, a small farms adviser.

"What was interesting about Jon was that he not only wanted to own the land, but he wanted to farm it," Moratorio said. "He had never owned land before, but he did a lot of research into what would be the right crop for him. He faced many challenges, because the olive oil market is very hard to get into. He not only had to grow the olives, he had to process them and sell them."

During the last few years, olive farm acreage has increased, growing to 120 acres in Solano County, Moratorio added.

"Many farmers are realizing that in order to stay competitive, they have to find new markets for their products," Moratorio said. "Many farmers are happy just to be the suppliers, but if you can be involved in the processing, marketing and retail of the value of your crop, you keep a larger part of the profits as it moves from the field to the consumers."

Fadhl's second chance meeting with luck allowed him to do just that. While attending a workshop sponsored by the Cooperative Extension on the agricultural and natural resources in Yolo and Solano counties, he met a representative from Raley's. Their interaction developed into a partnership, that came into fruition on May 4, when the Jovia Groves Olive Oil began selling their 500 mml bottle for $12.99 in the stores.

"We are excited about this new partnership with Jovia Groves Olive Oil," said Amy Johnston, a Raley's spokeswoman. "It serves as another example of the many ways we aim to support local businesses and provide our customers with locally produced products."

For Jon Fadhl, the fruits of his labor are beyond his wildest dreams, and he is very aware of his place in the fight to keep agriculture sustainable.

"This is an opportunity to keep open space and agriculture," Fadhl said. "If you grow local and shop local, it covers all the bases."

Reach Ines Bebea at 427-6934 or

Olive Oil Fast Facts

-- California has about 35,000 acres of table olives

-- California produced 350,000 gallons of olive oil in 2003

-- U.S. consumption of olive oil doubled in the past eight years

-- The U.S. imports 60 million gallons of olive oil

Source: 2004 California and World Olive Oil Trends Presentation, University of California, Davis

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