The theme was Fire & Ice, but the list of award winners was nothing but hot. At its annual industry celebration banquet held Feb. 7 in Vidalia, GA, the Vidalia Onion Committee announced the 2008 award recipient for Grower of the Year and its Hall of Fame inductees.
Two of the Hall of Fame inductees received posthumous recognition: Mose Coleman Sr., who has long been identified as one of the early onion growers in the region, and Earlie Jordan, who brought in plants from Texas to grow and sell to other farmers and formed one of the first marketing partnerships to promote the onions.
Around 20 members of the Jordan family, including three of Mr. Jordan's children, traveled from as far as Albuquerque, NM, to attend.
The final inductee this year was Doyle Smittle, a retired University of Georgia horticulture professor.
Mr. Smittle revolutionized the onion industry in 1990 when, with a five- gallon bucket and sheer determination, he perfected the atmospheric levels required to preserve Vidalia onions past fresh harvest. Mr. Smittle's controlled atmosphere storage technique has since been implemented on a large, industrywide scale and is used to prolong the Vidalia season and regulate the flow of onions to the market.
Bo Herndon, owner of L.G. Herndon Jr. Farms Inc. in Lyons, GA, was recognized as Grower of the Year. Mr. Herndon has been chairman of the committee for four of the past five years.
In addition to operating a successful onion business, Mr. Herndon grows greens, corn and other crops.
This year's Vidalia banquet saw a record crowd despite the sagging economy. Some 200 people enjoyed the evening, the theme of which was inspired by the economy. Invitations and programs written by Executive Director Wendy Brannen bore the following: "Some years the economy is hot, others it is not. No matter the 'temperature' of the nation, we are yet rich with blessings both personal and professional, our Vidalias perpetually the sweetest onions in creation."