We just got back from our weekend trip to Vidalia, GA and I’ve got LOT of unpacking to do, literally and figuratively. My overnight bag is on the floor and my goodie bag from the good folks at the Vidalia Onion Committee is on my kitchen counter along with a ten pound bag of sweet Vidalia onions. The memory card of my camera is completely full of pictures and videos that I need to flip through to show you all I learned. I have so much to share with you that I’m going to have to split this up between two, maybe three posts.I would like to thank the Vidalia Onion Committee for the incredibly gracious hospitality they extended to my my family and myself.
Vidalia onions are a seasonal crop prized for their sweetness. The high water content and low sulfur are keys to growing an onion so sweet you can eat out of hand.
At 9:30 Saturday morning my family and I, along with chef James Liles of Atlanta’s Publik Draft House and his family piled into a passenger van and rode out to M & T Farms for a tour of the facility. Heavy rains kept us from going out into the onion fields but we did get a thorough tour of packing facility where we were greeted by general manager Aries Haygood.
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Aries married into the Vidalia onion business and is a fantastic representative for the company. You can hear the pride in his voice as he discusses the efforts taken to ensure quality produce gest to market. The growing process is incredibly labor intensive with much of the planting, harvesting and packing process done by hand. To fulfill the need for workers, growers sometimes use the H-2A program which allows U.S. employers or to bring foreign workers to the U.S. to fill temporary agricultural jobs.
The Vidalia Onion Committee works closely with The University of Georgia to study seed, soil, fertilizer and everything in between to grow onions fit to be called Vidalia. Cliff Riner, the Vidalia onion agent from University of Georgia works in the Vidalia Onion and Vegetable Research Center which has acres of land dedicated to studying Vidalias. The research center gets assistance from inmates at a local prison who help record data, plant and harvest. Free inmate labor is a controversial subject with many people wondering if the skills the inmates learn will help them secure a job upon release from prison. If the inmates gain marketable skills during their time in the program and acquire employment after leaving prison then I can see the benefit of using free inmate labor.
Some of the studies done focus on onion fertility, nutrients in onion production, onion storage studies, thrips (insects that transmit disease), botrytis neck rot… so many things! There are lot of challenges to getting produce to market. Many of you will be happy to know there are no GMOs involved in the process. The Vidalia onion growing area is limited so part of the challenge is to increase the production of the onions as demand increases.
And then there was lunch! We were treated to some god down home cooking prepared by Memory Lane Catering and Cakes. Fried chicken, sweet potato biscuits, green beans cooked Vidalia onions and bacon, zucchini and yellow squash sauteed with Vidalia onions. Red velvet cake, pecan pie, sweet tea and so much more. It was delicious!
We headed back to our hotel after lunch and we were all pretty worn out and in need of naps but the Blue Angels had other plans for the afternoon. Let me tell you, if you don’t know the Blue Angels are going to be flying over your hotel and you snuggle into our comfy bed for nap time you will nearly break your neck as you leap from the sheets fearing an earthquake has struck. Unfortunately we couldn’t see them from our hotel room window but we did see them the next day. They put on an incredible show.
After nap time we headed out to see the Country Music Band “Lonestar” in concert but a sever thunderstorm shut the show down before the headliners could take the stage. Lucky for us we got a few treats and made a few new friends before the storm.
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And that’s the end of day one. The next day was equally full of good things