27 Aug

This olive importer, as an aside, rolls out the barrels

By Andreae Down,

You know what to do when life gives you lemons. But what if it’s barrels of olives instead — and capers and roasted red peppers? More precisely, what do you do with the barrels?
If you’re George Gebelein, you go into the rain barrel business.
Not that he ever intended it that way . No, Gebelein primarily is an olive man. His Orleans Packing Co., hard by the Readville station, imports them by the briny barrelful, along with other specialty vegetables from Spain and Morocco and other exotic locales. Then the veggies are removed, vacuum-packed in glass jars, and sold wholesale.

So large, empty plastic barrels — about 1,000 a month — were for years the almost annoying byproduct. Gebelein would sell them to fishermen to store bait or ship live fish, and to local Haitian and Cape Verdean immigrants who wanted watertight containers in which to ship dry goods to the islands.

But around 1989, Gebelein’s mother sent him an ad from Yankee magazine for rain barrels being produced and sold by two Newton art teachers . He called and offered to sell them his empty barrels.

Thus was born the partnership between Orleans Packing and the Great American Rain Barrel Co .

The two teachers used to drive to the packing company’s tight East Boston space — Orleans moved to Hyde Park in 1996 — and stack 12 barrels in a van. Later, they rented trucks to take 70 to 80 at a time.

After a few years, the demand became too much for two men with day jobs, so the teachers offered the business to the Gebeleins, who have been modifying and shipping the barrels since. Wife Suzanne manages the sales, and George and his staff take care of the modifications. Once enough orders have accumulated — 30 to 100, Gebelein said — Orleans employees, on overtime, power wash and, if needed, paint the barrels. The company offers them in black, green, gray, and brown. Workers bore holes for the intake, overflow, and the spigot. They add a screen to the top, and throw in a kit that includes instructions, the spigot, and overflow elbow. Voila! An olive barrel becomes a rain barrel.

Gebelein estimates the company can empty 50 to 90 drums a day. Suzanne sells about 250 every month over eBay, and 150 more a month through gardening catalogs, at prices ranging from $40 to $80. Orleans also is happy to sell to the competition. Plow & Hearth, which now makes its own (virgin) rain barrels, used to be one of their best customers.

About 600 also are bought annually by watershed organizations, from the Ipswich River to the mighty Mississippi . Municipalities hoping to stave off storm drain flooding from development also buy large quantities. Mansfield, which just approved several construction projects, bought 1,200 barrels last year to distribute to residents. Putting a barrel under a downspout or two can save homeowners on their water bills, and is endorsed by river and watershed organizations as being more environmentally friendly than letting rainwater flood storm drains or using drinking water to irrigate lawns and gardens. Rain barrels are particularly popular in towns with water bans.

How do the Gebeleins feel about the success of their sideline business? “ It’s gre at synergy,” said Suzanne. “We really like what we’re doing. We like our barrels.”

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3 Responses to “This olive importer, as an aside, rolls out the barrels”

  1. greg Says:

    I am wanting to know if you sell the 50 gallon olive barrels. I am looking to make a rain barrel.

  2. rob Says:

    I have been trying to find an authentic pickel barrel to actually brine cucmbers without any luck. I am thinking an olive barrel might work just as well. What I have seen at commercial picklers is a food grade plastic barrel with a narrow screw top and some type of screen or diaphram that holds the cucumbers in the brine. Have anything like this?

  3. warbaby Says:

    I would like to buy a few also!!

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