Editor’s note: Quotes for this article are compliments of Blue Book
Insider, which highlighted Georgia’s fruit and vegetable trade. Richter and Company Produce represents Stanley Farms, a significant contributor of Vidalia onions.
Updated: In 2014, Stanley Farms was purchased by Cottonwood Agriculture and now grows under the Generation Farms label.
Georgia peaches might have put that state on the world map, but as Amy Bell explains in the latest edition of the Blue Book Insider, a select group of farmers are growing something just as sweet, plump and popular: onions.
But these aren’t ordinary onions. They are Vidalias that can be eaten like an apple, baked whole with butter, sliced, diced, chopped or minced. In 2009 Georgia produced 12,993 acres of onions valued at more than $126 million. And most of those were Vidalias, said to be the sweetest onions in the world, purportedly loaded with more sugar than Coca-Cola, another famous Georgia brand, although not nearly as fattening.
Exactly what makes a Vidalia a Vidalia has been debated for decades by growers, distributors, and the United States Department of Agriculture. If there is a secret ingredient no one is sharing, but almost everyone who knows anything about the onion credits South Georgia’s amiable climate and loamy soil, which contains very little sulfer, said R.T. Stanley. As the owner of Stanley Farms, which grows 1,000 acres of Vidalias in and around the town that shares the same name, he is an expert on the onion.
Like most produce growers, Stanley runs a multi-generation business. His onion acreage, however, is larger than most, and the steps his family takes to ensure quality are equally impressive. During the packing process, a U.S. federal inspector remains onsite, and the farm annually participates in third-party audits to make sure its handpicked produce is safe to eat.
According to a New York Times travel writer, the onion might have been called a Metter, Lyons or Glennville, but Vidalia staged a promotion campaign and the name stuck. Vidalia onions won protective legislation in 1986 and by law farmers in only 13 counties and portions of seven others in Southeast Georgia can grow and sell Vidalia onions. “You’ve got to grow them in that defined growing area or you can’t call them Vidalias,” R.T. Stanley said.
All winter, cool weather and the loamy, low-sulfur soil with small amounts of nitrogen fertilizer coddle and nurture the Vidalia. Stanley Farms hand plants 80,000 onions per acre. Beginning in August each plant is germinated in seedbeds and then hand transplanted to the field in November and December. Harvesting lasts from early April to early June. It is a proven fact, said Bob Stafford, manager of the Vidalia Onion Business Council. “We work closely with the University of Georgia to research the Vidalia onion. We’ve tried the same practices with the same type of onion plant in other parts of the world, and nothing compares to the South Georgia soil.”
To read the entire Blue Book Insider article, click here.