California Olive Grower

Food and Travel, Heroes, Regional Food
on September 12, 2011
Staci Welch

“I love olives,” Buck Bonilla says without hesitation, “olive growing is a different culture all together.” And this farmer from the beautiful hills of Southern California knows a thing or two about these delicately tender orbs. Bonilla and his wife, Rhonda, own and operate a fifth-generation olive grove—a piece of land purchased back in 1948 by Rhonda’s grandfather Earl Fox, an early distributer of Lindsey Olives.

“Olives are a laid-back crop not prone to many diseases,” says Bonilla. “Our harvest starts at the beginning of October for table olives.” he says. Bonilla maintains that black olives are a superior eating-out-of-hand olive because extra care is taken at every step of the growing, picking and canning process.

"We pick them while they are still green, so they aren't mushy during canning," he says.

The culture of California growers is notably close-knit, as most groves are family run and under one hundred acres. “People who aren’t in farming culture don’t realize that almost all U.S. produced olives are grown in California,” he reminds us. Large distributers have tried to come in an farm on a large scale, but have had little success. “You don’t get rich farming olives—it’s a lifestyle—it’s family tradition.”

—By Emily Arno