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Grown properly only in a small pocket of south Georgia, the Vidalia onion matures into unsurpassed sweetness in the spring. In one of nature's most delicious mysteries, the granex seed, which produces a hot onion elsewhere, grows into an onion one "can eat like an apple" in the fields around Vidalia and Glennville. The bill designating the Vidalia onion as the official state vegetable was enacted by the General Assembly in 1990.
The onion is a member of the
pungent Allium genus of the lily family, which also includes garlic, leeks, shallots, and scallions. The word onion comes to us from the Latin unio
(meaning large pearl), which in Middle English became unyon. Most commercially-grown are of the common or seed (A. cepa) variety.
A Vidalia onion is a sweet onion of certain varieties, grown in a production area defined by law in Georgia and by the United States
Code of Federal Regulations (CFR). The varieties include the hybrid yellow granex, varieties of granex parentage, or other similar varieties recommended
by the Vidalia Onion Committee and approved by the US Secretary of Agriculture.
The onions were first grown near Vidalia, Georgia, in the early 1930s. It is an unusually sweet variety of onion, due to the low amount of sulfur in the soil in which the onions are grown.
Georgia's state legislature passed the "Vidalia Onion Act of 1986" which authorized a trademark for "Vidalia Onions" and limits the production area to Georgia or any subset as defined by the state's Commissioner of Agriculture.
The Story behind the State Vegetable of Georgia
L.G. Herndon Jr. Farms, Inc. Grower & Packers
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 late spring of 1931 that the onions he had planted were not hot, as 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 this 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 70 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 to the growth and success of the Vidalia Onion.
The law designating the Vidalia Sweet Onion as the official Georgia state vegetable is found in the Georgia Code, Title 50, Chapter 3, Section 50-3-65.
TITLE 50. STATE GOVERNMENT
CHAPTER 3. STATE FLAG, SEAL, AND OTHER SYMBOLS
ARTICLE 3. OTHER STATE SYMBOLS
O.C.G.A. § 50-3-65 (2014)
§ 50-3-65. Official vegetable
The Vidalia Sweet Onion is designated as the official Georgia state vegetable.
HISTORY: Code 1981, § 50-3-65, enacted by Ga. L. 1990, p. 1131, § 1.