Family Behind Organic Roots Adapts as California Drought Refuses to Break

The Polit family started out as rice farmers, but the state’s decades-long drought caused them to begin growing olives, which they continue to transform into award-winning oils.

Photo: Organic Roots Olive Oil
Aug. 4, 2021
By Jasmina Nevada
Photo: Organic Roots Olive Oil

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California has spent 33 of the past 35 years in con­di­tions of drought, accord­ing to data from the National Integrated Drought Information System. The Polit fam­ily are among the farm­ers who have man­aged through some of the worst years and been forced to adapt.

The fam­ily pro­duces Organic Roots Olive Oil in north­ern California’s Sacramento Valley, which boasts an ideal Mediterranean cli­mate for grow­ing olives.

Mike Polit was a miller for a large rice mill in the 1970s and decided to begin his own. He reached out to Chico San Rice Cakes, who agreed to back Polit in return for pro­vid­ing organic rice.

See Also: Producer Profiles

Polit Farms was founded in 1983, and now cov­ers more than 2,600 organ­i­cally cul­ti­vated acres (1,050 hectares).

Most impor­tantly, we believe in the organic grow­ing process not only for a cleaner, health­ier prod­uct but for land con­ser­va­tion and sus­tain­abil­ity as well,” Sherry Polit told Olive Oil Times.

We built an organic rice pro­cess­ing mill and olive press from the ground up and have main­tained it as a fam­ily-owned oper­a­tion ever since,” she added.

The ranch grew only organic rice for years. However, it became increas­ingly dif­fi­cult to get the ade­quate water sup­ply needed for grow­ing grain.

After con­sid­er­ing other crops, they decided to plant olive trees, con­tin­u­ing to fol­low organic pro­duc­tion best prac­tices. In 2008, the Polit fam­ily cel­e­brated their first har­vest sea­son, pro­duc­ing organic Arbequina extra vir­gin olive oil.

Their organic olive orchard is in the foothills of Glenn County, out­side the town of Willows.

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Photos: Organic Roots Olive Oil

By 2010, they planted Arbosana and Koroneiki olive trees, fol­lowed by more Arbequina trees in 2019. The fam­ily now man­ages 600 planted acres of olive trees.

In 2012, we decided to move for­ward and install our own organic olive press­ing facil­ity,” Polit said. We built a state-of-the-art olive pro­cess­ing facil­ity with most of the equip­ment com­ing from Italy and the rest from Spain.”

Their orchard has around 300,000 olive trees planted at super-high den­sity, which are har­vested using a spe­cial Oxbo har­vester.

Each fam­ily mem­ber has a spe­cific role in the com­pany. For exam­ple, sons Nathan and Lukas take charge of the milling oper­a­tion, and their sis­ter, Nikkol, over­sees the olive mill pro­duc­tion and bal­ances the books.

This year, the team at Organic Roots Olive Oil reaped the rewards of their hard work, earn­ing awards for their Arbequina and Koroneiki oils at the 2021 NYIOOC World Olive Oil Competition. The mono­va­ri­etals have been awarded at the pres­ti­gious con­test in each of the past four years.

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Entering and win­ning with our organic extra vir­gin olive oils at the NYIOOC has helped our olive oil and brand gain recog­ni­tion with not only olive oil con­sumers but with the olive oil indus­try as well,” Polit said.

After a record har­vest sea­son in 2019, in which they pro­duced 79,900 gal­lons (363,000 liters), pro­duc­tion fell steeply in 2020. Last year, the com­pany pro­duced just 27,800 gal­lons (126,000 liters).

With California enter­ing its most severe period of drought since 2017, the Polits face chal­lenges main­tain­ing their organic regime with a dwin­dling water sup­ply.

With extremely dry con­di­tions this year, we had to start irri­gat­ing the trees ear­lier than ever before,” Polit said. To make mat­ters even more dif­fi­cult, there are zero water allo­ca­tions from our water dis­trict.”

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We are rely­ing on two wells to pro­vide water for our 600 acres (240 hectares) of organic olives. Everybody in our area is doing the same,” she added. The ground­wa­ter lev­els are drop­ping due to every­one pump­ing from wells. This causes the well yields to drop as well. To com­pen­sate, we had to irri­gate in smaller sets and pump for more hours. We are pray­ing that we make it through this sum­mer.”

Despite the drought and other chal­lenges, Polit is still look­ing for­ward to an improved har­vest in 2021, com­pared with the pre­vi­ous crop year.

The 2021 crop looks good so far. Olive trees are an alter­nate bear­ing crop, which means one year you will get a heavy crop and then a lighter crop the next year,” Polit said. Also, Mother Nature is always a fac­tor in our pro­duc­tion as well.”

We are also look­ing for­ward to hav­ing our younger block of Arbequina, planted in 2019, com­ing online for har­vest in 2022,” she added. We are excited to see how it shakes out.”


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