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Tuesday, April 16, 2024

From Blossom to Bottle

“When you visit the Olive Mill, you come for an experience. Come for breakfast, have some coffee that we roast here, sit outside under an olive tree with a glass of wine and enjoy some lunch,” Perry Rea, President and Owner of Queen Creek Olive Mill, said.

Established in 2005, Queen Creek Olive Mill has remained an important facet of the town’s agritourism initiatives. The Mill’s Farm, Market, and Eatery are all in one location in the middle of town in Queen Creek, Arizona. Historically, Queen Creek has roots as a farming community, which Rea says was one major factor in his decision to establish the mill there.

After working for 40 years in the automotive industry, Rea retired, later becoming president of a large family-owned business with over two thousand employees across the United States, Canada, and Mexico. When the company was sold – and his time with the company was up – he “decided [he wanted] to do something else.”

While visiting Arizona from Detroit, the idea that eventually became Queen Creek Olive Mill came to Rea naturally. “I’m Italian. I like to grow things. I like to eat, I’m a foodie,” he explains. “My wife [Brenda] and I were walking in Scottsdale and saw a bunch of olive trees, and that was the idea.” With her suggestions and encouragement, they decided to move forward and open an olive mill together. “That’s how it all got started, and the entrepreneur I am, I started investing.”

Rea attended the University of California at Davis to take classes on the complexities of olive oil, manufacturing techniques and other relevant courses that would help him grow his business. He visited different mills across America, eventually traveling all the way to Italy to observe and learn from their age-old olive oil production process.

“We started with just one product,” says Rea. “Extra virgin olive oil from olives we grew.” Since the company’s beginnings, their product line has grown dramatically to reflect their continued success. Employees harvest fresh olives, manufacture oils and vinegars, and fill labeled bottles in-house, which Rea calls a true “blossom-to-bottle” process.

When guests step onto Queen Creek Olive Mill’s 56-acre property, they can expect to be greeted by over 14,000 olive trees. Surprisingly, that number isn’t enough to meet the mill’s demand. “We also have partner farmers in Yuma and Imperial Valley, and in Chile because they harvest and produce oil on an opposite seasonal schedule from us,” says Rea. This is due to Chile’s location in the Southern Hemisphere.. Thanks to these partners, Queen Creek Olive Mill can continue to produce quality products all year long.

“As part of the [guest] experience, our farm is like a regular farm,” Rea says. “People are responsible to grow the trees, harvest, prune, irrigate, et cetera. We don’t use flood irrigation—we went to a more sustainable [method] by using drip irrigation, which lets us target our trees better and waste less water.”

Queen Creek Olive Mill’s commitment to sustainability doesn’t stop there. Atop the facility’s main roof sit 600 solar panels, meeting 40% of the company’s power needs within a year. Rea says that when the Olive Mill is continually “harvesting and processing, we have a zero carbon footprint.” The Olive Mill also collectively recycles and refrains from using pesticides. Leftover water from processing and washing olives is reused to water plants and trees. “We have a large pond that we bring our water to, and then it’s distributed through the fields through drip irrigation,” Rea adds.

The Market is Queen Creek Olive Mill’s retail operation. Besides their beloved extra virgin olive oil, the Market has other provisions and products available for sale, including stuffed olives, pasta sauces, and tapenades. In addition to Olive Mill products, customers can also find other local brands there.

With a beautiful backdrop of delicate olive branches and blossoms, plus adequate space for 600 seats in front of the grove, the Olive Mill is the perfect event venue. Guests can book weddings, birthdays, baby showers, private gatherings, parties and other special events in the multiple event spaces available on the property.

Queen Creek Olive Mill also offers in-house catering services. “That operation is the fun operation, where we’re serving people food from a seasonal scratch kitchen,” says Rea. “We buy as many local and organic products as we can. As part of our farming operation, we also grow our own citrus [and garlic].” The Mill has been known for hosting an annual ten-day Garlic Festival.

Rea encourages guests to embark on different tours and tasting opportunities that the Olive Mill has to offer. He describes these as comprehensive, since they “explain [the Olive Mill’s] history, the nutritional benefits of olive oil, and how we grow and harvest… People are hungry to understand where their food is coming from.”

Since 2005, Queen Creek Olive Mill has remained a family business. “It’s kind of fun, everyone has a little piece of what they do,” says Rea. His son works in marketing within the company. His wife, Brenda Rea, and their daughter run the fastest-growing segment of their business together—OliveSpa, which sells olive oil-based bath and body products. Together, the Rea family created the continued success of Queen Creek Olive Mill, a staple of sustainability and agritourism in the town of Queen Creek.

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