Published on Wednesday, May 3, 2017
John Gambini grew up in East Texas, but spent his career traveling the country with his construction business. “I’ve built all over the United States, 29 of 50 states so far, but I'm pretty well at the end of my career.” John explains.
His daughter, Cara, earned a Computer Science degree and began work in the oil and gas industry. “Farming is not something where I was looking and I was like, 'Oh yeah! This is what I want to do.'” She laughs.
But nine years ago, John decided it was time to pursue his dream of starting a family business. Although neither he nor his daughter had much of a background in agriculture, there seemed to be opportunity.
“My father actually started talking about doing a winery. Building a winery and a vineyard, and obviously I thought that was a really cool idea.” Cara explains. “Then he read an article about some people that were trying to plant olive trees in Texas and it just totally changed our future. We started doing some research and the next thing you know, we're planting an orchard.”
"I've been a builder my whole life and wanted to create a family business.” John adds. “It's very rare that you're able to get involved in a business that's really on the ground floor, that is something new, and didn't exist before. That's really what excited me about the olive industry. It was new here. We knew our family would be in the second wave of pioneers, so to speak. It was just very exciting to think that we could be that. I want to do this the rest of my life."
The Texas olive industry began in 1993. There were about six brave people who planted trees and started trying to understand if there were varieties suited for the climate. The industry plodded along, and finally took off in the late 2000s.
About the same time the Gambini family started Texas Hill Country Olive Company, more and more people started seeing olive’s potential and became interested. The Texas Association of Olive Oil (TXAOO) now connects over 100 Texans and serves as a resource for the young industry. The TXAOO has partnered with Texas A&M’s AgriLife program to monitor existing orchards and plant test orchards so the industry continues to learn and grow. “It's dramatic, what's going on here in the state.” John says with excitement.
In addition to growing olives themselves, the Gambini family mills, processes, and sells their own products. They have a beautiful agritourism location just outside of Austin complete with a gift shop, tasting room, and bistro. Honoring the family's Italian-American roots is important. They’re proud to share their Texas grown oils with visitors from all around the world. Guests enjoy learning about the health benefits of oil and the historical significance of the crop.
“We started doing tours a little over a year ago.” John recalls. “We’ve meet people from England, Sweden, Thailand, Vietnam, India, you name it. I have so much fun when I do tours. People are thankful for what we're doing. They thank us all the time.”
John says he doesn’t consider giving up when tough times come. Although weather can be challenging, it helps to keep the big picture in mind. “I think what we have really come to understand is we're building this industry, all of us that are involved in it. We're doing something incredibly positive for not only Texas, but for the whole country. I think that's what keeps us going.”
For Cara, the perseverance of the trees is inspiring. “Not really having an agricultural background, I really fell in love with the trees and how resilient and adaptive they are. They just don't want to quit. I guess that's why they can live for thousands of years. But, it's just been amazing to see what they take and they just come back stronger each time, and more beautiful. I feel like the trees themselves kind of develop character and if you've ever seen a really old olive tree, they have so much character. Old and knarly looking, they've been through so much in their life. Kind of like the trees, we also develop character over time.”
At the end of the day, it all comes back to why Texas Hill Country Olive Company started in the first place – family. “We've very proud of our heritage. Now we have a next generation. Cara and her husband have graced us with our first grandchild." John beams. "Literally, the thing that excited me about building the olive orchard as well as being involved in this industry was, the trees live for thousands of years. If the family continues to take care of this orchard, they could live off of it for generation after generation after generation after generation. I'd love for Cara's children and her children's children to still own this orchard one day hundreds of years from now. The joy of creating the family business and having my daughter and other family members involved in it is just a privilege and a special relationship for me.”
That’s why John Gambini and Cara Gambini farm.
Author: Natalina Sents
Categories: Why I Farm, Why I Farm Roadtrip
Tags: Beck's Blog, Why I Farm, Beck's Hybrids, Texas, Natalina Sents, Why I Farm Roadtrip, Texas Hill Country Olive Company, olive, TXOOA