Agritourism Takes Off at Arizona’s Queen Creek Olive Mill

Tourism is key to the success of Queen Creek Olive Mill’s business and the promotion of extra virgin olive oil in Arizona.

The Rea family
By Thomas Sechehaye
Jan. 2, 2024 13:49 UTC
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The Rea family

Fifty kilo­me­ters south­east of Phoenix, Arizona’s only active olive mill is work­ing to pro­mote extra vir­gin olive oil con­sump­tion through agri­tain­ment.

Perry and Brenda Rea founded Queen Creek Olive Mill with their five chil­dren in 2005. Since then, it has flour­ished into a mul­ti­fac­eted farm­ing, milling and tourism oper­a­tion, attract­ing more than 650,000 peo­ple annu­ally.

We would not have suc­ceeded if we hadn’t cre­ated an agri­tourism busi­ness with our olive oil pro­duc­tion. It’s not enough to make high-qual­ity extra vir­gin olive oil.- Perry Rea, founder, Queen Creek Olive Mill

Agritourism was new to Arizona when we began our busi­ness,” Perry Rea told Olive Oil Times. We wanted to cre­ate a des­ti­na­tion like one you could find in Italy, where you can see the farm, take a tour of the facil­ity, eat the locally grown food and spend a whole day enjoy­ing your­self.”

The Rea (pro­nounced Ray-uh) fam­ily started by plant­ing dif­fer­ent olive tree vari­eties to see what could work in Arizona’s desert cli­mate, typ­i­fied by extremely hot sum­mers and short, mild win­ters. The oper­a­tion grew organ­i­cally from there, Rea said.

See Also:Istrian Officials Share Oleotourism Insights at Events in Spain and Italy

The 22-hectare prop­erty has eight hectares of olive trees planted in medium den­sity, with nearly 10,000 Arbosana and Koroneiki trees and var­i­ous oth­ers planted around the prop­erty.

Knowing peo­ple would have to travel about an hour out­side of any Phoenix to get here, we added a restau­rant to our small olive oil shop filled with locally curated prod­ucts, vine­gar, stuffed olives, tape­nades, and, of course, our extra vir­gin olive oil,” Rea said.

Agritourism aims to pro­vide vis­i­tors with an edu­ca­tional and recre­ational expe­ri­ence related to agri­cul­ture and rural life. It can also be a way for farm­ers to diver­sify their income and pro­mote sus­tain­able agri­cul­ture.

Having our 56-acre (22-hectare) farm out in the mid­dle of nowhere as Queen Creek was back in the early 2000s allowed us to be a des­ti­na­tion that peo­ple from Phoenix and tourists from out-of-state would want to travel to,” Rea said. Many of our cus­tomers were inter­ested in what made good, high-qual­ity extra vir­gin olive oil and the prac­tices we used to make it.”

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Southeast of Phoenix, Queen Creek Olive Mill boasts eight hectares of medium-density olive groves.

John Rea, Queen Creek Olive Mill’s pres­i­dent, said agri­tourism cre­ates an envi­ron­ment for poten­tial extra vir­gin olive oil con­sumers to learn what sets the prod­uct apart from other edi­ble oils regard­ing its health ben­e­fits and organolep­tic qual­i­ties.

We wanted to cre­ate a space for our guests to explore the world of extra vir­gin olive oil, enjoy healthy and local foods, and, of course, share a bot­tle of wine under the shade of an olive tree,” he told Olive Oil Times.

We think it is vital for every­one to under­stand and appre­ci­ate the impor­tance of a high-qual­ity extra vir­gin olive oil,” Rea added. We want every per­son who leaves our farm to think twice the next time they pur­chase olive oil at their local gro­cery store.”

Two-thirds of olive oil pro­duc­ers said they wel­comed tourists to their farm, mill and facil­i­ties, accord­ing to a recent Olive Oil Times sur­vey. Forty-five per­cent of respon­dents said tourism was impor­tant to their busi­nesses.

Tastings were the most com­mon activ­ity, with 87 per­cent of respon­dents offer­ing the expe­ri­ence. Sixty-one per­cent orga­nized estate or har­vest tours and nearly 39 per­cent said they ran courses or work­shops.

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Perry Rea hosts a cooking demonstration, one way in which the company educates and entertains consumers with extra virgin olive oil.

As Queen Creek grows, the plan is to keep up with inter­est by adding new offer­ings and oppor­tu­ni­ties through expan­sion.

We con­stantly attract peo­ple to our farm through din­ing, fes­ti­vals, events, new prod­ucts and edu­ca­tional oppor­tu­ni­ties,” Rea said. People are hun­gry for knowl­edge, and that’s what we offer. Whether through our Olive Oil 101 class, trac­tor farm tours or pizza-mak­ing classes, we are con­stantly teach­ing.”

According to Perry Rea, who recently com­pleted the Olive Oil Times Education Lab Sommelier Certificate Program in New York, adopt­ing agri­tourism is a nec­es­sary syn­ergy for olive oil pro­duc­ers to suc­ceed in a highly com­pet­i­tive busi­ness.

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We would not have suc­ceeded if we hadn’t cre­ated an agri­tourism busi­ness with our olive oil pro­duc­tion,” he said. It’s not enough to make high-qual­ity extra vir­gin olive oil; you also have to evolve into some­thing that will make peo­ple want to come to the farm and bring their friends and rel­a­tives from out of town. Create some­thing unique that is hard to find out­side of Europe.”

According to the local news out­let, Queen Creek Tribune, the Queen Creek Olive Mill recently received new zon­ing cer­ti­fi­ca­tion that cleared the way for a 13-hectare expan­sion. The Queen Creek Planning and Zoning Commission noted that the expan­sion would help pro­mote the area’s agri­cul­tural her­itage.

The agri­tain­ment zon­ing cat­e­gory was non-exis­tent when Queen Creek opened to the pub­lic. Seeking approval for plans became prob­lem­atic as the town’s exist­ing zon­ing cat­e­gories did not cover the types of expan­sion sought.

John Rea said Queen Creek is proud of its rich farm­ing his­tory and is going through dra­matic growth like many towns in the greater Phoenix area. There just needed to be a zon­ing cat­e­gory that would accom­mo­date the type of busi­ness we had cre­ated,” he said.

The solu­tion adopted by the zon­ing com­mit­tee was to allow the own­ers of busi­nesses in Queen Creek to help write a new zon­ing cat­e­gory called agri­tain­ment, allow­ing for var­i­ous uses, includ­ing retail, restau­rants, hotels, res­i­den­tial and venue spaces.

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Tractor tours of the groves and the rest of the farm are among the many agritainment options offered by Queen Creek Olive Mill.

We have a few things in mind, but the imme­di­ate future will be a build­ing expan­sion, allow­ing us to have more ware­house space, a more exten­sive pro­duc­tion facil­ity and a big­ger over­all foot­print,” Rea said. We are con­sid­er­ing adding more eater­ies, con­cepts and venue spaces in the slightly more dis­tant future.”

We are a very com­pre­hen­sive busi­ness. Farming, har­vest­ing, milling, bot­tling, and sell­ing,” he added. We carry it fur­ther by offer­ing an on-premise restau­rant, pri­vate venue areas, a two-acre (0.8‑hectare) pic­nic area under olive trees that can accom­mo­date 600 peo­ple, cof­fee roast­ing by Infusion Coffee Labs, a selec­tion of wines, and local craft beer.”

Along with 32 extra vir­gin olive oil and olive oil-based prod­ucts, Queen Creek Olive Mill imports and blends its bal­samic vinai­grette from Modena, Italy. Still, Perry Rea sees tourism as a demand dri­ver for these prod­ucts.

Agriculture is fun­da­men­tal in the shap­ing and birth of Queen Creek,” he said. We aim to honor that through our olive farm and agri­tourism des­ti­na­tion. We do this through our sus­tain­abil­ity ini­tia­tive, edu­ca­tion, and future growth.”

John Rea added that focus­ing on sus­tain­abil­ity is also essen­tial, demon­strat­ing to vis­i­tors that extra vir­gin olive oil ben­e­fits their health and the envi­ron­ment.

We believe giv­ing back to the earth is impor­tant, which is why we com­post, use drip irri­ga­tion, have solar pan­els, and we’ve even built a 3.5 mil­lion gal­lon (13 mil­lion liter) irri­ga­tion pond on our farm,” he said. As cus­to­di­ans of Queen Creek’s agri­cul­tural legacy, we aspire to har­mo­nize tra­di­tion with con­tin­ual strides in inno­va­tion.”



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