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Onions and music both seeing great production by Grigg family

by Kathleen Thomas Gaspar | April 16, 2009
While onions have been grown for generations in biblical proportions by the Griggs of Quincy, WA, it's only recently that family roots have gone in a completely different -- but still faith-based -- direction.

Famous red and yellow onions from the Columbia Basin, marketed by Sweet Clover Produce, are now sharing the spotlight with Holly Starr Grigg, daughter of Lorin Jr. and Gail Grigg. Eighteen-year-old Holly, who is known as Holly Starr, released "Embraced," a Christian music CD, in August 2008, and just a few months later opened for country megastar LeAnn Rimes at a January concert in Wenatchee, WA.

In late March, she and family members traveled to Nashville and Indieheaven, an organization that supports Christian music endeavors.

Ms. Starr, who was among the nominees for Female Vocalist of the Year, performed "I Love You Anyway," which is rising on the genre charts. She was not named vocalist of the year, but her first music video of the song is set for release this month.

Her music tour has also included opening for Rush of Fools in March, and she will perform at Lifest in Oshkosh, WI, and Creehan NW in Washington later this year.

For their part, Ms. Grigg and her family members see her many successes in the same light as the success of the Grigg farm.

"God has revealed to us every day [that] his hand is on Holly, and to have this opportunity to share her music with this industry is incredible," Mr. Grigg said of his daughter.

Mr. Grigg also said that the family's deep faith is "what gets us through the hard times and the crop year. We really know there's something out there other than what we see going on. Our faith gives hope in tomorrow." Those "tomorrows" began in 1937, when Walter C. Grigg purchased farmland in central Washington state.

Agriculture had been especially hard hit by the Great Depression, but the Griggs persevered in a year that also saw the opening of the Golden Gate Bridge, the transcontinental flight speed record set by Howard Hughes from Los Angeles to New York in just under seven-and-a-half hours, and the fateful flight and crash of the Hindenburg airship.

Points of economic reference: Gas was 10 cents a gallon; a new house cost $4,100; and rent was about $25 per month. Also that year, dust storms blanketed the Southwest, and national unemployment was above 14 percent. In the years since establishment of that first farm, which was a dairy, change has been enormous, and nearly every aspect of American life -- including technology, commercialism, industry and agriculture -- is vastly different today.

However, the Grigg family itself has maintained a steady course.

Walter Grigg saw potential for his kin in the Columbia Basin, and his dairy farm did well. As years passed and irrigation became more common in the area, Walter's son, Lorin Sr., added circle crops such as hay, sugar beets, potatoes and some sweet corn.

Lorin Sr. and his wife, Roberta, raised son Lorin Jr. and daughter Kelly, and both offspring worked on the farm. The younger Lorin earned agricultural degrees from Washington State University and returned to the farm in 1984. Kelly has since left the operation and lives in Moses Lake, WA.

Today, Lorin Jr.'s wife, Gail, a certified public accountant, handles financial matters for the farm, and the father-son team continues to grow a variety of crops on 3,000 acres.

Sweet corn is planted on 1,500 acres, and 800 acres are dedicated to onions, with 400 planted in the famed Red Wing variety. Grigg & Sons also produces Sedonas and Crockets as well as other yellows.

Marketing is handled through Sweet Clover Produce, with product shipping from late September through May. Well-known onion man Bill Brownfield and his son, Pat, handle sales from the Walla Walla, WA, office of Sweet Clover. All Grigg onions are direct-seeded in the spring starting in March, and Mr. Grigg said that the farm has storage for 27,000 bins.

"Our bulk storage brings the total to 24,000 tons," he said.

Capacity at the shed is for 10-12 loads per day, depending on how many hours the line is run. Mr. Grigg said that the operation employs 45 people during onion season, and the farm maintains a hands-on family approach to business.

The Griggs have three children in addition to Holly. Camille, 22, a graduate of Seattle Pacific University with degrees in linguistics and Spanish, is currently teaching in Mexico. Clark, 20, is fulfilling a ministry internship at City Church in Kirkland, WA, and is preparing for a mission trip to Uganda. Luke, 16, is a sophomore at Quincy High and a member of the school's varsity basketball and track teams.

Holly herself is a senior at Quincy High and also a student at cosmetology school in Wenatchee, which enables her "to support my music."

In February, the singer-songwriter said, "I love living in Quincy and on the farm, and it's awesome to come home after I've been gone. My family taught me a lot about the value of hard work. And even though I don't see myself directly working on the farm, I'll always be a part of it. I grew up pulling weeds and cleaning sheds, and I started driving a tractor when I was 14."

She admitted, "I didn't like it very much, and so I worked as a waitress for a couple of years."

The young woman said she knew at age 12 that she wanted to pursue a career in music, and she added, "It's in my heart to do missions." And the onions?

In the Old Testament, Numbers 11:5, Moses hears the lament, "We remember the fish, which we did eat in Egypt freely, the cucumbers and the melons and the leeks and the onions and the garlic."

What the Israelites longed for during their Exodus is what the Grigg family grows and what has long made up their livelihood. What comes from faith -- good ground and unusual opportunity in 1937, expansion as times have changed, opportunity knocking and talents emerging -- is what Holly Starr's music continues to praise.

To some it might be a stretch to go from onions to Christian music and back to onions. But for the Grigg family, it fits perfectly.