Don Mueller • Green Gate Olive Grove • Owner / Jackson County
[Photo: Ray Stanyard]
During his eight years in natural gas consulting in sometimes dreary England and Ireland, Don Mueller would vacation in sunny Italy, where he was enchanted by the country’s olive groves. When he retired to Florida in 1992 — for the sun, of course — he decided to grow olives. “A modest endeavor,” he calls it.
Mueller says he was told it couldn’t be done here. But he started in 1999 and had his first real harvest in 2004. He has 320 trees on five acres, another 200 not yet producing and an award for his olive oil from a food festival where the competition came from Italy, Turkey, Tunisia, Peru, California and Spain. He produces as much as two tons of olives in an “on” year. He sells his olives in bulk, cured or pressed into olive oil. People accustomed to being limited to the grocery stores’ standard manzanilla variety drive to his grove to buy hard-to-come by ascolanas. He also grows missions, arbequinas and other varieties. The ascolanas prove so popular that he limits customers to five pounds.
“I’m totally in love with growing olives.”