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He left Blue Earth for the olive, wine country of New Zealand

By Staff | Jul 19, 2009

Elsewhere in this issue of the Register you can read the story of former Blue Earth resident Mike Hanson and his efforts to bring New Zealand olive oil to the United States in general, and Minnesota in particular,

But there is more to the story. For instance, how did he get to New Zealand in the first place?

Hanson is a 1969 graduate of Blue Earth High School. It was in 1976 that he met, and then married, a foreign exchange student at Blue Earth.

His wife, Margaret, was staying with the Callaghan family here, for the school year.

So for the past 32 years, Mike and Margaret have lived in New Zealand. Mike went to law school there and was employed in labor law.

He says he is now retired, but still works free-lance – something he is able to do from home, or from Blue Earth, through the marvels of computers and the internet.

He and Margaret moved out of the capital city of Wellington, and bought a 30 acre farm in the small town of Martin Borough, population 2,000.

He says the area is well-known as a great wine producing region. New Zealand has gained a great reputation for its wines, around the world.

Hanson says the same qualities that make for producing great wine also works for making great olive oil.

“When I called my father and told him I was buying some farm land he got excited and asked me about it,” Hanson says. “I couldn’t tell him, because it was hilly, rocky and only had a couple inches of topsoil – not like the rich black dirt of southern Minnesota.”

The Hansons have both grape vines and olive trees on their land.

“We have Pinot Noir grapes, and use them for making wine,” he says.

Then there are the olive trees. They are harvested now, in what is winter in New Zealand. It is cool, but not freezing there.

The soil and the climate make for olives with intense flavors, Hanson says.

He has operated as a ’boutique grower,’ making his own olive oil which is bottled under the ‘Blue Earth Olive Oil’ label. He calls it a tribute to his old home town.

Now, a group of 30 different boutique growers have combined into a company to make and market ilove olive oil.

The name, says Hanson’s partner John Meehan, is an anagram of olive. They have been marketing it in Canada for a while, and now are entering U.S. markets, especially in Minnesota. Here they have the olive oil for sale at Byerly’s and Lund’s stores, mainly in the Twin Cities.

When John Meehan’s wife (and the ilove oil promoter) was crossing the border from Canada to the U.S., she was asked if she had any food items with her. She responded, in her British vernacular, that she had olive oil in her boot.

She got a very puzzled look from the border patrol, who glanced at her feet. She, of course, meant she had bottles of the oil in the trunk (boot) of her rental car.

Hanson and Meehan say they hope their olive oil venture takes off. So far, they say, it is not available in Blue Earth.

However, every summer when Mike Hanson comes back to visit family, he brings a few bottles of the Blue Earth brand of olive oil to Ankeny Furniture, where they sell out in a matter of a couple of days.

Maybe it is the clever name.