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Wendy Brannen, executive director of the Vidalia, GA-based Vidalia Onion Committee and chairman of the Vidalia Onion Museum Committee, was recently awarded $30,000 in funding that will bolster both Vidalia area tourism and the Vidalia onion name.

Ms. Brannen applied for two grants through the Georgia Department of Agriculture block grant program, which is designed to fund projects that enhance the competitiveness of specialty crops. The 2008 farm bill established the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program, and once Ms. Brannen was notified by the Georgia Department of Agriculture of the $30,000 potential allocation, the grants then had to receive federal approval.

Ms. Brannen's pet project, the Vidalia Onion Museum retrofit and renovation, will receive $20,000 and is now only $40,000 shy of the $215,000 total project cost.

"I was absolutely floored that I managed to get this money from block grant funding," Ms. Brannen said in a Dec. 9 press release. "Honestly, I figured the hours spent writing this one would be in vain. The news felt like winning the lottery."

Renovations of the www.VidaliaOnion.org web site, which is the official Vidalia onion web site and which is owned and maintained by the Vidalia Onion Committee, will receive $10,000.

"Like it or not, social media is a growing piece of the marketing pie,"?she added. "This infusion to our web budget will help us catch up. Yumion already has his own Facebook page -- search for Yumion V. Onion to become his friend -- but now we'll be able to Twitter, post Vidalia onion recipe blogs and so forth."

The Georgia Department of Agriculture set up a competitive grant process to award these federal funds in 2009, and it is administering funds totaling $909,576.44 for the development of projects that will support and enhance the competitiveness of specialty crops in Georgia. The department's intent is to fund projects that can produce the highest degree of measurable benefits to Georgia's specialty crop producers in relation to each dollar spent. Examples of eligible crops are fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits, horticulture, Christmas trees, turf grass or sod, and nursery and greenhouse crops.

The Vidalia Onion Museum Committee plans a soft open of the new museum by Vidalia Onion Festival week this spring, and the growers and packers of the committee have pledged the large sum of money needed for a wide-scale grand opening and media event later in 2010. Exhibit installation and content development are currently underway.