The Story of Vidalia Onion
The Vidalia Onion story takes root in Toombs County, Georgia over 60 years ago, when a farmer by the name of Mose Coleman discovered in the late spring of 1931 that the onions he had planted were not hot, as he expected. They were sweet! It was a struggle to sell the onions at first, but Coleman persevered, and managed to sell them for $3.50 per 50- pound bag, which in those days was a big price. Other farmers, who through the Depression years hadn't been able to get a fair price for their produce, thought Coleman had found a gold mine. They began to follow suit, and soon after, their farms were also producing the sweet, mild onion.

In the 1940s, the State of Georgia built a Farmers' Market in Vidalia, and because the small town was at the juncture of some of South Georgia's most widely traveled highways, the market had a thriving tourist business. Word began to spread about "those Vidalia onions." Consumers, then, gave the onions their famous name.Reorders were made, and "Vidalia Onions" began appearing on the shelves of Piggly Wiggly and A&P grocery stores.

Through the 1950s and 60s, production grew at a slow but steady pace, reaching some 600 total acres by the mid 1970s. At that point, a push was made for Vidalia Onions to be distributed throughout the nation, and several promotional efforts were begun. Onion festivals became an annual event in both Vidalia and nearby Glennville, Georgia, and production grew tenfold over the next decade. In 1986, Georgia's state legislature passed legislation giving the Vidalia Onion legal status and defining the 20- county production area. The Vidalia Onion was named Georgia's Official State Vegetable by the state legislature in 1990.

In 1989, Vidalia Onion producers united to establish Federal Marketing Order No. 955, for the crop. This USDA program established the Vidalia Onion Committee and extended the definition of a Vidalia Onion to the Federal level. The Marketing Order provided a vehicle for producers to jointly fund research and promotional programs.

Beginning in 1990, technology borrowed from the apple industry was adapted to begin the controlled atmosphere (CA) storage of Vidalia Onions. Now, some 125 million pounds of Vidalia Onions can be put into CA storage for up to 7 months, thus extending the marketing of Vidalias through the fall and into the holiday season. In 1991, the Vidalia Onion Committee began to annually honor one individual with induction into the Vidalia Onion Hall of Fame. The Committee considers the recipient's character, reputation and overall contribution of the growth and success of the Vidalia Onion. Inductees must be a leader in one or more of the following areas: protecting and promoting the name of the Vidalia Onion; protecting and promoting the quality of the Vidalia Onion; advertising and promoting the Vidalia Onion; sales of Vidalia Onions and creative selling methods, or research and growth development of the Vidalia Onion.

 

Growing Region of the Vidialia Onion

Under the terms of Federal Marketing Order No. 955, as well as a state law, Vidalia Onions are defined to include only those produced in 13 counties and portions of seven others, all in Georgia. Although the yellow granex hybrid is grown in many other parts of the country, it is only in the defined production area that the soil and climate combine to produce the special characteristics of the sweet Vidalia Onion that has attracted the attention of gourmet taste buds everywhere.

Farmers plant Vidalia Onions from September through February. About 70,000 plants are produced on each acre. Approximately 200 growers cultivate Vidalias on 13,000 to 14,500 acres. Vidalia Onions flourish in the sandy loam soil and mild conditions - temperatures average in the mid-50s in the winter and, mid-70s in the spring, with an average rainfall of 3-1/2 inches during the growing season. Vidalias mature and are harvested from late April through mid-June. The delicate nature of Vidalia Onions requires that they be harvested by hand, thoroughly dried and treated gently during grading and packaging.

Recent technology has extended the marketing season of Vidalia Onions past the summer months with controlled atmosphere (CA) storage. The principal characteristic of CA storage is a modification
of the atmosphere in the storage room. Normal atmosphere, or the air we breathe, contains about

79% nitrogen, 21% oxygen and .03% carbon dioxide. However, Vidalia Onions can be stored for several months in an atmosphere of 92% nitrogen, 5% carbon dioxide and 3% oxygen, with the air temperature in the storage room being maintained at around 34 F.

No chemicals are utilized in the CA process, only the natural elements found in pure air. While in CA storage, the Vidalias remain dormant (virtually asleep) until they are removed and returned to normal atmospheric conditions.

Tests show there is no change in the taste or texture of Vidalias that have been stored in a controlled atmosphere. Vidalia Onions have been successfully stored for up to 7 months, thus extending their marketing season into November and December. Current CA capacity for Vidalia Onions is approximately 125 million pounds.

Hendrix Produce Inc. 2010