Vidalia onions are not the only variety grown in Georgia, but they are by far the most popular and best known. The Vidalia onion story took root in 1931 in Toombs County, Georgia, when a farmer named Moses Coleman discovered the onions he had planted weren't hot, as he had expected, but sweet!
He sold those onions for $3.50 per 50-pound bag, a big price in those Great Depression days. Other farmers followed suit, and soon their farms were producing the sweet, mild onions.
In the 1940s, because Vidalia was at the juncture of some of south Georgia's most widely traveled highways, a farmers' market there was a thriving tourist business. Word began to spread about Vidalia onions.
Consumers, then, gave the onions their famous name. "Vidalia onions" began appearing on grocery store shelves.
Production grew at a slow but steady pace, reaching 600 total acres by the mid-'70s. Then a promotional push began to distribute Vidalia onions throughout the nation. Onion festivals became an annual event in Vidalia and nearby Glennville, and production grew tenfold over the next decade.
In 1986, Georgia passed legislation giving Vidalia onions legal status and defining the 20-county production area. The Vidalia onion was named Georgia's official state vegetable in 1990.
In 1989, Vidalia onion growers united to form Federal Marketing Order No. 955. This USDA program established the Vidalia Onion Committee, extended the definition of a Vidalia onion to the federal level and provided a way for growers to jointly fund research and promotion programs.
Beginning in 1990, technology borrowed from the apple industry was adapted to begin the controlled atmosphere (CA) storage of Vidalia onions.
Now, 125 million pounds of Vidalia onions can be put into CA storage for up to seven months, extending Vidalia onion sales into the fall holiday season. Production typically lasts from April to June.
To preserve Vidalia onions for a longer period of time, wrap them separately in paper towels and refrigerate. It is important to keep Vidalia onions cool and dry when storing.
Onions are a fat-free, low in calories and a good source of vitamin C!
Commercial and Professional Publications
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- Impact Statements: Onions
Descriptions of Extension efforts to improve knowledge and practices related to onions.
- Organic Vidalia Onion Program in Georgia
Guidance for organic onion production.
- Vidalia Onion
Crop history, events calendar, newsletter, researcher contacts and links to websites and publications.
- Vidalia Onion and Vegetable Research Center
Describes center featuring research plots primarily for onions but also for other fruits and vegetables.
- History of Onions in Georgia
New Georgia Encyclopedia article on industry and production.
- Vidalia Onion Committee
Brief facts on onion production and industry. Recipes, nutritional information, links and sections targeted to growers and kids.
- Vidalia Onion Museum
Site for the museum dedicated to the history of the Vidalia onion and the growing region that has made it so famous.