Vidalia Area News
Vidalia Onions Are So Sweet That They Have Their Own Museum
VIDALIA, Ga.Did you know that Vidalia onions were once a murder investigation clue on the television show "C.S.I. Miami"? That it was also a clue of another kind on "Jeopardy!" and "Who Wants to be a Millionaire"? Or that Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf once wrote a letter about his love for Vidalias?
Since 1931, Vidalia sweet onions have been grown in only 13 counties and portions of seven others in Southeast Georgia, and it's such a sweet success story that it was only a matter of time ? well, some 80 years ? before a museum honoring them would eventually come along.
The Vidalia Onion Museum opened in April to much fanfare, and as Wendy Brannen, director of the Vidalia Onion Committee, notes, "It's not every day that an onion gets its own museum."
She says tourists come from around the United States to see where the sweet onions are grown, and the museum, a living history of the Vidalia, tells its story through educational, colorful, eye-catching exhibits like antique farm equipment, videos, photographs, newspaper stories and an interactive children's exhibit.
"Vidalia onions are the No. 1 value vegetable crop for this state," says Brannen.
Just learn to say Vidalia properly before you come. It's not Vah-DAY-lia, as it's often misspoken. Instead, says Georgia Department of Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black, "It's pronounced VIE-day-yah in our wonderful Southern dialect."
What makes this $200 million-dollar a year gourmet onion so sweet and beloved enough to earn its own museum? Just start peeling away the layers of its history to find out.
Back during the Great Depression, farmers were looking for new crops in addition to corn and cotton that grew easily in South Georgia's sandy, low sulfur, easily drainable soil. Onions seemed the easy choice, as they could be planted in late winter for spring harvesting.
Just about everyone knows that most onions are pungent and hot, but the first ones grown in Vidalia weren't. They were sweet, mild and flavorful with the taste created from a perfect storm of soil, water and climate. With plenty of rain or regular irrigation, the Vidalias have more water content than their more pucker-worthy counterparts, so it's more about the water than sugar.
When Moses Coleman, one of the first farmers to pioneer the Vidalia, met with a local grocer to sell his product, he reported, "I pulled out my onion and I ate it there in front of him. He' d never seen anything like it. There wasn't any tears coming out of my eyes, and I wasn't making no face."
The state built a farmers market near Vidalia, which is at the crossroads of several major highways and about equally distant from Savannah, Macon and Augusta. Word traveled about those "sweet onions from Vidalia," that could be had at the farmers market, the name stuck, and the customers came for them.
And then one day a pig and an onion crossed paths.
Piggly Wiggly, that great Southern institution of grocery stores affectionately known then and now as "The Pig," was also headquartered in Vidalia. Piggly Wiggly put the Vidalia onion on it shelves, the public gobbled them up, and the rest is time-lined history.
The first Vidalia Onion Festival was held in nearby Glennville in 1977, with Vidalia following with its own in 1978. The Vidalia Onion Festival, named one of MSNBC's "Five Don't Miss Festivals," is held each spring and includes air shows, onion eating contests, beauty queens, and even the Vidalia mascot named Yumion.
During the mid-1980s, farmers battled to have their growing region protected by both federal and state law, and then in 1990 the Vidalia Sweet Onion became the official state vegetable of Georgia.
Don't mess around with the onions, either, as there is such as a thing as Vidalia onion fraud. It's a felony to label other sweet onions grown outside the area as Vidalias. Fines begin at hefty $10,000 for slapping a Vidalia label on, say, a Peruvian or Texas onion.
Vidalias are widely available in the spring and early summer across the United States and Canada before they sell out. And they always do. They make it to the menus as far away as Vidalia, the similarly-named renowned restaurant in Washington, D.C.; the Tribeca Grill in New York, and Woodfire Grill in Atlanta.
Besides visiting the museum and sampling onion dishes, there are other things to do in Vidalia, too.
Drop by Buckhorn Creek Ranch, a petting zoo with exotic and domestic animals including Watusi cattle, elk, and peacocks. Try canoeing the Altamaha River, named to the Nature Conservancy's " 75 Last Great Places," or peck your way through your genealogy at the Ladson Genealogical Library, one of the Southeast's best repositories for family history. Or you can simply drive the back road s, taking in the scenery and scent of the tall pines and sweet onions.
Vidalia may be in the country, but the chain hotels are well represented, including Days Inn and Hampton Inn. But try something different like a stay at the Cotton Patch Inn just outside of town with endless views of cotton fields, or Mara D Farms, a creek-side country cabin on a wooded lot, as locals say, down a dirt road.
Find Vidalias at area restaurants like Benton Lee's Steakhouse, on the banks of the Altamaha, which brags it has the "biggest steaks this side of Texas." Elements Bistro & Grill in Lyons is like finding an Atlanta fine dining restaurant way down in the middle of nowhere. Steeplechase Tavern and Entertaining Angels are local favorites, too, but this is the small- town South, so you'll also find institutions like Dairy Queen and Shoney's, both just a few blocks from the museum ? and both of which serve Vidalia onion rings.
IF YOU GO:
The Vidalia Onion Museum is at 100 Vidalia Sweet Onion Drive in Vidalia, about a three-hour drive from Atlanta, Ga., or Jacksonville, Fla. The closest international airport is Savannah-Hilt on Head, which is served by most major carriers, and is about a 90-minute drive. For additional information, including a recipe for Vidalia onion rings, visit www.VidaliaOnion.org or call (912) 537 -1918. Contact the Vidalia Area Convention & Visitors Bureau at www.VidaliaArea.com or call (912) 538-8687. Also visit www.VidaliaOnionFestival.com. Contact the Cotton Patch Inn at www.bbonline.com /ga/cottonpatch or the Mara D Farms at www.MaraDFarmsCabin.com.
Ga. museum dishes the history of Vidalia onions
VIDALIA, Ga. They've started fistfights and court battles, been romanticized in country songs and counterfeited by bootleggers. Their trademark sweetness has made them a coveted ingredient in recipes from salads and relishes to cookies and muffins.
If a museum dedicated to onions sounds rooted in folly, the history behind the famous Vidalia onion can likely hold its own with other veggie shrines such as the Idaho Potato Museum, the Red River Valley Sugarbeet Museum in Minnesota and the tiny Carrot Museum tucked in a Rhode Island bed-and-breakfast.
The freshly opened Vidalia Onion Museum digs fairly deep to dish the good, the bad and the yummy on Georgia's official state vegetable including the unearthed origin of Vidalias' reputation for being so sweet they can be eaten like apples.
"You go anywhere in the country and you get these crazy, random museums. So naturally people expected we had an onion museum," said Wendy Brannen, who oversaw creation of the museum in her job as executive director of the Vidalia Onion Committee, which handles marketing of the crop.
It took five years and $250,000. But the onion museum, which shares space with Brannen's committee offices and the local tourism bureau, opened its doors April 29 to coincide with the celebration of the spring harvest.
The museum has exhibits on the science behind why onions grown in rural southern Georgia turn out so mild (low-sulfur soil, for starters). There's a foodie section with recipes for Vidalia onion muffins and congealed salad with chopped onions, lemon gelatin and cottage cheese.
One corner is dedicated to TV clips and other pop-culture curios. There's Sammy Kershaw's country song about a girl with a funky name: "Sweet Vidalia/ You always gotta make me cry." And who'd have thought knowing that Vidalias come from Georgia was an answer worth $25,000 on "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?"
For the uninitiated, the museum handily breaks down the basics: Only 20 counties in Georgia can grow and sell onions under the Vidalia name, by order of state and federal law. Each year onion farmers ship about 200 million pounds of Vidalias, valued at $150 million.
Still, the museum's juicy centerpiece is a collection of photos, newspaper clippings and videotaped interviews that tell the story of how Georgia's prized cash crop grew from a few Depression-era farmers who randomly started growing onions to supplement their cotton and tobacco harvests.
One of those early stories features a firsthand account from farmer Mose Coleman, who grew his first onions from mail-ordered seeds in the 1930s and sold them out of a trailer made from the back of a Model T Ford. Coleman tells of how he sold his crop to a grocery chain's buyer by biting into a raw, ripe onion and eating it like a piece of fruit.
"I pulled out my onion and I ate it there in front of him," Coleman recalled in a speech years ago in Vidalia. "He'd never seen anything like it. There wasn't any tears coming out of my eyes, and I wasn't making no face."
The Vidalia onion's reputation rippled outward over the decades. A state farmer's market established here in 1949 sold onions to consumers traveling in from Macon, Savannah and Augusta. In the 1960s, Vidalia-headquartered Piggly Wiggly supermarkets began buying the onions by the truckload and selling them across the South.
It took a while for farmers to settle on the Vidalia name. Grower Pinky McRae insisted on calling his onions "Toombs County Sweets." Others stood by "Glennville Sweets," named for a neighboring farming town. Disputes over what to call the onions grew so heated they sometimes erupted into fistfights.
By the 1980s, Vidalia farmers put aside their infighting to face a common foe: bootleggers who were shipping onions from Texas into Georgia and bagging them with Vidalia labels to fetch premium prices.
Newspaper clippings chronicle tales of onion intrigue. One farmer hired a private investigator to go undercover and spy on a suspicious competitor. Another grower was reported to have borrowed a gadget from Coca-Cola and so he could sneak into a neighbor's fields and test the sugar content of his onions.
By 1985, one farmer accused of selling bogus Vidalias got hauled into court, but growers couldn't make fraud charges stick. Nothing in state law defined what made an onion a Vidalia.
Farmers began lobbying state lawmakers and Congress. In 1986, the 20-county Vidalia onion growing area was defined in Georgia law. It won federal protection in 1989.
The onion battles made headlines across America, and the crop's legend grew. Vidalia Mayor Ronnie Dixon says he realized his city's namesake onions had become downright famous soon after he took office in 1994.
"People stated calling city hall and asking how they could get onions mailed to them," Dixon said.
Even though the town's a bit off the beaten path, about 15 miles south of Interstate 16 between Macon and Savannah, plenty of pilgrims have been finding their way to the museum. There, onions grow in patches planted on either side of the front door. In less than two months, more than 250 visitors have signed the museum's guest book.
Mark Labat and Barbara Ouder of Slidell, La., wandered in on a recent Tuesday. After vacationing in Savannah, they opted to make a special detour through Vidalia rather than head to Plains, Georgia's peanut capital and home to former President Jimmy Carter who made sure the White House kitchen stocked Vidalia onions.
"We were looking at a map, wondering where could we go," said Labat, an auto mechanic. "I said I'd rather go to Vidalia. You can't do Louisiana cooking without onions."
Georgia town celebrates Vidalia onions with festival
(Reuters) - The air has a distinctive pungent smell and vendors offer fried, grilled, caramelized and fresh fare at the Vidalia Onion Festival, the annual celebration of the onion in south Georgia.
Not just any onion though. Vidalia onions, which are sweeter than those grown elsewhere. The lack of sulfur in the red, sandy soil and closely guarded farming techniques give the onion its signature flavor.
To carry the Vidalia name, onions must be grown within a 20-county region in Georgia.
An onion-eating contest, country music and new onion museum will draw tens of thousands of people to south Georgia for the festival that started Thursday and finishes on Sunday.
"Vidalias are a staple in my kitchen, and we always have them," said Kevin Gillespie, a former contestant on the TV show Top Chef. "They have such a distinctive flavor, I don't think you can substitute them for another."
Gillespie joined other celebrity chefs, including James Beard Foundation award-winner Jeffrey Bubun, owner of the Vidalia restaurant in Washington, D.C., at the opening celebration of the Vidalia Onion Museum.
The museum documents growers' struggle to preserve and protect the Vidalia name, which the Piggly Wiggly grocery store chain originally trademarked in 1972. The state of Georgia acquired the trademark in 1986.
This year's Vidalia onion crop is a big one, said farmer Aries Haygood. "It's a good crop with good quality."
The entire town serves as the setting for the annual festival. Farmers sell their produce from wagons alongside recipe contests and public tastings.
On Saturday, the festival features an air show and concert by country music singer Kellie Pickler.
The festival's most popular event on Saturday afternoon features competitive eaters coughing and hacking their way through the onion-eating contest.
Participants will try to consume as many onions as they can in three minutes. Last year's adult winner ate 25 1/2.
(Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Greg McCune)
(This story was corrected in paragraph four to say festival runs Thursday through Sunday)
5 don't-miss festivals across the U.S.
By Sarah Schlichter - IndependantTraveler.com
Food, wine, parades, live music and finally getting outdoors after a long winter ... what's not to love about the spring festival season? If you're seeking inspiration for a last-minute spring trip, don't miss the festivities going on around the U.S. in celebration of everything from strawberries to Cinco de Mayo. Read on for info on our five favorite upcoming spring festivals.
New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival
New Orleans, La.
Despite its name, the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival showcases much more than just jazz music; headliners this year include Jimmy Buffett, Robert Plant & the Band of Joy, Cyndi Lauper, Wilco, Wyclef Jean and dozens of other artists in every musical genre you can imagine. In addition to live concerts every day, the festival — which runs for 10 days from April 29 through May 8 — also offers a Louisiana Folklife Village and a Native American Village where visitors can watch crafts demonstrations and enjoy traditional local music. And don't forget the food! This is your chance to sample N'awlins favorites like muffuletta, red beans and rice, po'boys, and crawfish pie.
California Strawberry Festival
Whether you like 'em baked into a shortcake, dipped in chocolate, slathered with whipped cream or even tossed on top of a pizza, strawberries are the center of the action at Oxnard, California's annual Strawberry Festival on May 21 and 22. Check out the Strawberry Promenade to watch cooking demonstrations and take in an informative exhibit on the "Life of a Strawberry." Live music, a kids' area, and locally made arts and crafts round out the offerings.
Cinco in the Park
Denver celebrates Mexican culture and heritage with its annual Cinco in the Park festival, scheduled this year for May 7 and 8. The holiday of Cinco de Mayo commemorates a battle in which the Mexican town of Puebla overcame the French back in 1862; in modern-day Denver, the fiesta includes music, dancing, a parade and a Green Chili Bowl Cook-Off, in which local restaurants duke it out over who has the best spicy recipe.
Nantucket Daffodil Festival
After a long and snowy winter, the island of Nantucket celebrates the spring thaw each year with its colorful Nantucket Daffodil Festival. This year's festivities, which run from April 29 through May 1, will feature annual events such as the antique car parade (the vehicles are, of course, bedecked with daffodil blooms), the daffy hat pageant (how many flowers can you fit onto your baseball cap?) and the daffy dog parade (a daffodil-decorated Fido might lack a little dignity, but he'll sure look pretty).
Vidalia Onion Festival
Did you know that the Vidalia sweet onion is Georgia's official state vegetable? Help celebrate all things onion at the 34th annual Vidalia Onion Festival, which runs from April 28 through May 1. The town goes all out for the festivities, which include an air show, a concert (with "American Idol" alum Kellie Pickler as the headliner), a Miss Vidalia Onion pageant, a rodeo, a motorcycle rally and, of course, plenty of opportunities to sample those yummy onions! Try the sweet onion rings, available downtown all day during the festival, or attend the Vidalia Onion Culinary Extravaganza with a local chef and cookbook author. Those with iron stomachs can join the onion eating contest.
New campus means big changes for Vidalia's hospital!
By Dal Cannady - bio | email
VIDALIA, GA (WTOC) - Construction crews worked Wednesday on the few finishing touches that remain on the new Meadows Regional Hospital. Construction started 18 months ago, but planning and design started nearly three years ago.
"It's a lot like building a house," described Meadows CEO Alan Kent. "Parts of it seem to move quickly so that you think you'll be far ahead of schedule. Then rains come and slows things down."
Despite some weather delays, they'll open close to their target date. Kent said the $55 million building replaces a 50-year-old building across town that's been expanded and remodeled over the years. He said the new building will reflect how parts of modern medicine work together.
"Radiology being beside the ER, the operating room next to labor and delivery, the lab and other highly accessible patient areas right inside the front door," Kent noted.
Those designs, he believed, will make doctors and staffers more efficient and that will reflect in patient care.
The new Meadows also includes a larger emergency room, including cardiac-specific stations, as well as top of the line MRI's and CT scanners and patient rooms with larger windows and wider hallways.
To Kent, the creature comforts are more than just window dressing. He said patients are still customers and if they feel more comfortable, they'll come back again.
"Every room is a private room and every room has a fold out sleeper sofa. No more sleeping on two chairs put together or on cots," he assured.
Kent doesn't wish for anyone in the community to get sick. But if they do, he hopes they stay close to home. Meadows' 500 hospital employees will open the new campus in early February.
Copyright 2010 WTOC. All rights reserved.
KELLIE PICKLER TO HEADLINE
34th Annual Vidalia Onion Festival Concert
The Vidalia Onion Festival Committee is pleased to announce that Kellie Pickler and Tracy Lawrence will perform at the 34th Annual Vidalia Onion Festival. The concert is scheduled for Saturday, April 30, 2011, at the Vidalia Regional Airport. Advance tickets are $25 for general admission, $50 for VIP Special Seating, and can be purchased at www.vidaliaonionfestival.com. Tickets can be purchased at the gate for $35.
Kellie Pickler gained fame for her top-six finish on fifth season of American Idol. Her first album Small Town Girl produced three Top 15 singles and was certified Gold within three months of its release. In 2008, Kellie released her self-titled second album. She is known for hits “Red High Heels”, “I Wonder”, “Things That Never Cross a Man’s Mind”, and “Don’t You Know You’re Beautiful”. Kellie is the winner of several CMT Music and American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers awards.
Tracy Lawrence was named Billboard’s Top New Male Vocalist in 1992, and the Academy of Country Music’s Top New Male Vocalist in 1993. His hits include “Alibis”, “Texas Tornado”, “Time Marches On”, and “Find Out Who Your Friends Are”.
The 34th Annual Vidalia Onion Festival will kick off with its opening ceremonies Friday, April 29, 2011, at 6:00 pm at Southeastern Technical College. A street dance, featuring live music from the Swingin’ Medallions, and fireworks display will follow the ceremonies at the college. The Vidalia Onion Festival Airshow will be Saturday, April 30th, and Sunday, May 1st, at Vidalia Regional Airport. Other festival events include the arts and crafts festival, the Kiwanis Onion Run, the Vidalia Onion Festival Rodeo, the Vidalia Onion Recipe Contest and Public Tasting, the Vidalia Onion Culinary Extravaganza, and the world-famous onion eating contest.
LPGA Futures Tour Announces Georgia Tournament
Vidalia Championship to take place in August
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla., Dec. 14, 2010 – The LPGA Futures Tour announced today the $110,000 Vidalia Championship, which will take place at Hawk's Point Golf Club in Vidalia, Georgia. The inaugural tournament will be held August 26-28 and will bring 144 professional women golfers from around the world to "The Sweet Onion City". The Tour has signed a three-year deal with Hawk's Point for the tournament.
"The LPGA Futures Tour is delighted to add Vidalia to our official 2011 schedule,” said Zayra F. Calderon, CEO of the LPGA Futures Tour. “There has never been a better time to showcase our young, talented professionals in this community and the state of Georgia, known for its golf-savvy fans. With more than 500 players who have graduated to the LPGA Tour, this region will enjoy watching the players as they compete on this challenging golf course and attempt to win a guaranteed spot on the LPGA Tour.”
Hawk’s Point Golf Club, owned by Tiger Creek Ranch, LLC, draws golfers from many areas to face the challenges of this 18-hole semi-private course. Hawk's Point recently underwent a complete new renovation, which included a banquet and conference center. Reopened in 2009, Hawk's Point was redesigned as a shot-makers course and stretched to 6,743 yards from the tips, hosting Champion greens with multiple bunkers and water added.
"Hawk’s Point is a course ideally suited for championship play, offering many challenges," Hawk’s Point General Manager Steve Holton said. "This shot-makers course requires careful shot process to score well. We look forward to hosting today’s brightest stars of the Tour as they’re tested both from a playability and mental standpoint. The City of Vidalia and Hawk’s Point are proud to host the Vidalia Championship and share in this wonderful partnership with the LPGA Futures Tour."
The 54-hole Vidalia Championship marks the return of the LPGA Futures Tour to Georgia. The Duramed Invitational was last held in 2008 at the Chateau Elan Golf Club in Braselton, Ga. The tournament was won by Vicky Hurst, who earned her LPGA card that season and now competes full-time on the LPGA Tour.
About Hawk's Point Golf Club
Hawk’s Point Golf Club is owned by Tiger Creek Ranch, LLC. In 2008, Hawk’s Point made a major investment to perform a new build on its existing course. Headed up by Don McMillan Golf Course Construction and Steve Holton, General Manager, Hawk’s Point underwent a complete new renovation.
Redesigned as a shot-makers course and stretched to 6,743 yards from the tips, hosting Champion greens with multiple bunkers and water added, Hawk’s Point is truly a championship golf course sitting quietly in a small Georgia rural community. Located in Vidalia, Georgia, Home of the Sweet Vidalia Onions, Hawk’s Point draws golfers from many areas to face the challenges of this 18-hole semi-private course. A new addition to Hawk’s Point is Talon’s Grill and Hawk’s Nest, Vidalia’s finest Banquet/Conference Center. Reopened in December 2009, Hawk’s Point is now proud to host the LPGA Futures Tour Vidalia Championship. www.hawkspointgolfclub.com
About the LPGA Futures Tour
Entering its 31st competitive season in 2011, the LPGA Futures Tour has become the world’s largest international women’s developmental tour. As the "Road to the LPGA," the Tour has remained committed to developing LPGA stars of tomorrow and creating viable role models for youth today. The top 10 money winners each season earn automatic membership on the LPGA Tour. With more than 300 alumnae as current members of the LPGA, former LPGA Futures Tour players have won a total of 345 LPGA titles, including 37 major championships. LPGA Futures Tour events have contributed more than $4 million to charitable organizations throughout the nation since 1989. Follow the LPGA Futures Tour on the web at lpgafuturestour.com; facebook.com/Duramedfuturestour; twitter.com/ROAD2LPGA and youtube.com/ROAD2LPGA.
For LPGA Futures Tour
Joely Pique, Public Relations Manager, 386-290-7174, firstname.lastname@example.org
For Vidalia Championship
Steve J. Holton, General Manager, Hawk's Point Golf Club, Inc., 912-537-9256, email@example.com
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