Golden Years to Gold Awards: Georgia woman’s inspiring journey from retiree to a pioneer in olive production

Meet Sharon Cobb Flanagan, one of Georgia’s Olive Pioneers, whose triumph in taste is making waves at her state’s Gold Awards and worldwide.

In recent years, Georgia has witnessed a remarkable surge in olive production, contributing over 900 tons of domestic olive oil annually. This thriving industry owes much of its growth to visionary farmers like those at Five Otters in Eastman, Georgia, where first-generation farmers like Sharon Cobb Flanagan and her team are crafting a unique success story.

Flanagan, the driving force behind Five Otters, recently shared her journey from retirement to olive farming with The Farm Monitor. She said, she first discovered Georgia’s burgeoning olive industry in the Farmers and Consumers bulletin and was instantly captivated by the idea. Her retirement presented an opportunity to pursue her passion for learning and her love for olive oil.

Despite facing challenges, such as a reduction in production due to a late winter freeze, Sharon remains a resilient olive producer. This year’s yield of approximately sixty gallons — although, lower than desired —marks significant progress from the previous year. Flanagan’s optimism shines through as she explains how small olives, resulting from double flowering, often translate to richer taste—a testament to her commitment to quality.

Five Otters recently achieved a prestigious gold award at the NYIOOC World Olive Oil Competition. Flanagan’s modesty belies her accomplishment, as she describes being left nearly speechless by the honor. This recognition is all the more impressive considering it was only her second harvest. It underscores the dedication required to excel in this industry, where perfection in every step is the key to success.

What sets Five Otters apart is its hands-on approach. Unlike larger operations, they meticulously hand-pick their olives and carefully space their trees to optimize pollination. Their pruning techniques, designed to facilitate wind pollination, showcase their commitment to detail and innovation.

Sharon is not just a farmer— she is also an advocate for others to consider joining the agricultural world. Her encouraging words to aspiring farmers emphasize overcoming hurdles and embracing the learning curve, much like any other career. She believes in the transformative power of farming, whether it’s the joy of research, the satisfaction of watching crops grow, or simply the pleasure of enjoying the fruits of one’s labor.

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