In search of Award Winning Olive Oil along the Historic Woodpecker Trail
Taking the scenic route to the Woodpecker Trail Olive Farm drivers pass miles of open farmland growing everything from soybeans and peanuts to onions and grapes. This beautiful countryside may seem like an unlikely location to grow olives yet that is exactly what the owners of this six generation, 300 acre farm in the heart of Georgia’s Magnolia Midlands are doing.
Along the scenic Woodpecker Trail in Georgia’s Magnolia Midlands lies a 300 acre, six generation plot of fertile land called the Woodpecker Trail Olive Farm. It is here that Tracy and Curtis Poling nurture 7000 olive trees and produce what is widely considered to be among the world’s finest Extra Virgin Olive Oils.
Although cultivation of olives in Florida and Georgia dates back to the mid 1500’s when Spanish Franciscans first established their missions, it wasn’t until 2020 that this intrepid couple earned the world’s attention by winning a Silver Award at the 2020 NYIOOC World Olive Oil Competition, the world’s largest and most prestigious competition for extra virgin olive oils in which more than 800 entries from 27 countries participated.
Upon winning their first Silver Award the Poling’s were equal parts surprised, humbled and proud, especially considering that few people would ever associate the words Georgia and olive oil in the same sentence, let alone award winning olive oil!
After exchanging a couple of e-mails Tracy graciously invited us to visit their storied farm…on my birthday no less! We could hardly wait to meet them and to learn about the centuries old history of their farm as well as the Magnolia Midlands, Georgia’s rich agricultural region. And of course…to sample some of their award winning EVOO.
Early on the morning of July 10th. we headed west on Highway 144 out of Richmond Hill to the small farming town of Glennville, with a population just shy of 5000. An hour later we arrived at the Woodpecker Trail Olive Farm to meet Tracy and Curtis for the morning tour.
After several days of heavy rain, compliments of Tropical Storm Elsa, we were treated to clear blue skies and mild temperatures. It was a glorious day to explore the olive orchards, lavender field and various beaver inhabited ponds along with shady longleaf pine forests.
I left the tasting room thinking to myself that Curtis should be giving TED talks on the proper methods of building and managing an olive orchard. The talk would be especially interesting considering that when they began the initial soil sampling (2014) and site surveying (2015) he and Tracy knew absolutely nothing about cultivated olive trees or the making of olive oil. Knowing this makes the story of Woodpecker Trail Olive Farm even more amazing, combining equal parts research, trial-and-error and hands-in-the-dirt determination, all of which personify the hallmarks and spirit of this this farm, and this regions, rich agrarian history.
After our brief but informative master class in the finer points of cultivated olive trees, along with the production process, it was time to hop in the golf cart and take a spin around the property.
For the next hour we jumped in and out of the cart to learn more about the various olive varieties, soil, irrigation and how it is that olives can grow here at all. Once we understood that portions of the farm share many of the most important characteristics as olive growing regions in Tunisia, Jordan and Turkey it was clear to us why the 7000 trees, inclusive of eight varietals, are not only surviving but thriving. In addition to good drainage, constant rejuvenation and the perfect temperate climate the most important factor in the success of this farm is an almost obsessive devotion to the health of the trees.
During our tour the Poling’s shared with us that there is an alligator named “Olie” living in one of the ponds, which they have rarely seen. True to form, Olie was playing shy during our visit. In addition to Olie there are gopher tortoises who reside in large holes that they dig into the soil along with several families of beavers. Bird species number in the dozens and a variety of snakes also call the farm home. On the day of our tour we saw plenty of olives but no alligator, no gopher tortoises and no snakes.
We’ll take them at their word!
Spend an hour or two on this magical farm and you realize that the peacefulness of this place cannot be overstated. The sound of birds and the rustle of the wind through the pines is nature’s way of encouraging us to relax, take a deep breath and simply unwind.
Our tour was followed by lunch at the Watermelon Creek Winery, a short drive from the Poling’s farm. Over plates of salmon and chicken salads the conversation was lively, familial and full of good humor. It was as if we were longtime neighbors although we had met less than three hours before. That is testimony to Tracy and Curtis’ easy-going manner along with their natural inclination to share their lives and their passion for what they do as well as their lifelong love of travelling. A new friendship was formed over lunch.
The future growth of the Woodpecker Trail Olive Farm looks very promising as Curtis has placed orders for additional trees along with the necessary machinery to produce their own oil. This ambitious plan will include constructing a dedicated two story building directly in the orchard allowing him to press the olives immediately after they come off the trees. The pressing operation would be on the ground floor while the second floor would serve as a teaching space and tasting room with views of the surrounding orchards. By not having to transport their harvest to an off-site facility for pressing the farm will have a harvest-to-bottle operation ensuring that their award winning EVOO will be even fresher.
And perhaps with a little bit of luck future visitors to the farm may have the pleasure of listening to Curtis deliver a TED talk on all things olive while overlooking the orchards!
A note about the Historic Woodpecker Trail.
The Woodpecker Trail is a 620-mile scenic and historic route that runs along state routes 25/121. It stretches from Charlotte, North Carolina to St. Petersburg, Florida.
The trail has been named one of the 50 most scenic drives in America and makes for a relaxing day trip as it passes through some of Georgia’s most beautiful farmland. Weathered barns, rusting farm equipment and miles upon miles of open farm land is guaranteed to take your mind off your day-to-day worries. So pack a lunch and a camera and take a drive back in time along one of Americas scenic byways.
If you find yourself in need of a relaxing day in the country, book a tour with the Woodpecker Trail Olive Farm to experience some of Georgia’s, and the world’s, finest olive oil.
And don’t forget to slow down…and always take the scenic route!