TOOMBS COUNTY, GA (WTOC) - Monday marks the beginning of one of the sweetest seasons of the year.
We’ll soon see Vidalia sweet onions, grown right here in Southeast Georgia, in grocery stores and other markets. The crop means more than $150 million to the region’s economy.
The 42nd festival will be held April 25-28. It will kick off Thursday evening with a children’s parade and a movie under the stars. Friday will feature sidewalk sales downtown during the day, and the official opening ceremonies, street dance, and fireworks will take place Friday night.
The Kiwanis Onion Run, arts and crafts, the famous Vidalia Onion Eating Contest, carnival, onion recipe contest, and concert will all take place on Saturday.
Onion farmers across South Georgia got even busier Monday morning as they started shipping their crop to stores and customers across the U.S. and beyond.
The packing shed at McLain Farms was running full speed on the first day of packing and shipping. Rusty McLain says they get commercial and retail orders from one side of the nation to the other.
“Everywhere from Maine, to California, to Seattle, Washington, and some of ours actually go into Canada,” he said. “People all over the world know the Vidalia onion. It’s known for its sweetness and great flavor. It’s the best sweet onion that there is.”
His family has one of only 65 farms in the region to grow onions under the trademarked Vidalia name. All of them started packing and shipping Monday because they all work with the Georgia Department of Agriculture in advance to set a date when onions will be ready. That way, nobody sends premature onions into the market, leaving consumers with a bad taste in their mouth - literally. Growers pay into a group that helps set rules to protect the brand name.
“We push the Vidalia name. We don’t push individual farms. We push the “Vidalia,” and we all have the same standards to go by,” said Bob Stafford, Vidalia Onion Committee.
Farmers couldn’t start packing or shipping until Monday morning, but Rusty says that doesn’t mean they haven’t been working in advance to be ready the moment they could start.
“We’ve been preparing for 4-5 days to make sure we have enough volume,” he said.
Last year, they shipped 400 truckloads, and hope for that many this year.
McLain says they have about six to eight weeks of harvesting to go as well as packaging get them shipped.
Click here for ticket information for the Vidalia Onion Festival.