By Chris Furguson
Around the spring season in the Imperial Valley, many farms in the northern half will see green shoots and the odor of onions will be in the air.
Onions are a major part of the Imperial Valley crop, accounting for a significant percentage of the entire agribusiness in the county.
The Imperial Sweet variety is biologically referred to as a “Granex,” which is a cross between the flat “Bermuda” and a “Grano.”
The variety was developed by Dr. Henry A. Jones after accidentally discovering a male-sterile variety in the 1930s. The onion was soon found in counties like Vidalia, Georgia and in Texas and Hawaii. The famed Vidalia onions and the trendy Texas Sweet 1050s are slight localized variations from the Imperial Sweet.
Imperial Valley’s loamy soil conditions and high alkaline content generated a sweet onion instead of the typical hot and pungent. According to some farmers, the Granex variety grown out of Vidalia and Maui aren’t as sweet as the Imperial and Texas varieties, but marketing efforts by Georgia farmers have made the Vidalia onion the household word.
To qualify as an Imperial Sweet Onion, the onion itself must be at least 2.5″ in diameter, be yellow and very sweet.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture, over 400,000,000 pounds of onions were grown in California in 2008, the majority of which came from Imperial, Fresno and San Joaquin counties. In 2006, onions generated over $34 million dollars for Imperial county farmers.
While the Imperial Valley produces more sweet onions than any other region in the world, places like Vidalia in Georgia and Maui in Hawaii have managed to attach their name to California varieties.
Most onions grown in the Imperial Valley are used raw in various food production methods and are rarely sold at market. Typically, sweet onions are harvested from April until early July
In two weeks, the Brawley Chamber of Commerce and the Main Street Association will host their annual Imperial Sweet Onion Festival, a celebration of the Onion industry in the Imperial Valley. The Festival has a Hawaiian theme, a tribute to the Maui onion industry. The festival will also host an onion ring cooking contest with prizes for most popular, best ring and best booth.
The Imperial Sweet Onion Festival will be held at Plaza Park in Brawley on May 8, 2010 starting at 6 pm. In the past, the event had hawaiian and polynesian performers doing traditional dances and music.