Ray Farms Inc. of Glennville, GA, has been in the Vidalia onion deal for more than 40 years and the family owned company has always done things one way. Apparently, that is the right way. This year, Ray Farms was selected by its peers as the Vidalia Onion Grower of the Year.
“The main focus here is we try to take care of the family and we try to do whatever it takes to provide for them. And we always give credit to the Lord for what we get and don’t take nothing for granted,” said Danny Ray, who with brother Gary Ray runs the business their father Avon Ray founded. “When we say family farm, this is a family farm. My daddy retired 10-12 years ago; still whenever we start doing onions, the same people come by to talk every year and he still like to be down here and be right in the mix with us. Mama [Annette Ray] can’t do like she used to but she’ll still come in and get on the grading line and you can still catch her down here once in a while.”
Ray Farms produces cotton, corn, peanuts, watermelons, peas and beans, but the Vidalia onion is the king of the crops. During the summer months, the entire family works in the packing house during the Vidalia onion harvest season.
“Gary is the one taking care of everything out in the fields; while I’m here in the office taking care of this end he’s out there growing,” Mr. Ray said. “It’s a team effort. My daughter [Whitney Ray Groover] came in when we started our food-safety program and also handles organics. Now she’s getting involved in sales and she’s handling the trucks and has taken quite a load off me. My wife Patsy, she keeps the money side straight. Gary’s wife, Rhonda, comes over and helps during the bulk of the season to keep things organized. It takes the whole family to keep things going the way they should be going.”
Danny Ray’s other daughter, Bridgette Sapp, teaches school, but comes in to help out afternoons and evenings during season. And his 2-year-old grandson Gavin Sapp is already a regular around the shop. Gary Ray’s 10-year-old twins also pitch in; daughter Savannah answers phones and son Nicholas spends a lot of time in his dad’s truck and in the onion fields.
And there will soon be another addition to the Ray team: Danny Ray is expecting a second grandchild, due May 1, right in the middle of the Vidalia season whirlwind.
“I’ll be up at the hospital probably with a phone in each hand trying to take care of business,” Mr. Ray joshed.
“We’re blessed being able to have our family come in and work so close. A lot of families get separated and it’s a blessing to be able to work together, I wouldn’t have it no other way — I love it,” Mr. Ray said. “I don’t have to worry about anything because I know who’s on the other side of the wall from me taking care of things the same way I do.”
Being named Grower of the Year, Mr. Ray said, was an unexpected bonus.
“That was something special, something you wouldn’t expect and especially when it’s voted on by your peers,” he said. “I appreciate them having confidence in us and putting us in that position.”
But awards aside, it is still business as usual at Ray Farms, and this time of year that means a nonstop flurry of Vidalia dealings.
Ray Farms grows Vidalia onions and a crop of Georgia Grown red onions that gets a little larger each year.
“Right now the crop is looking good, we don’t have disease, we’re getting some size,” Mr. Ray said in mid-March. “We’re probably three weeks away but right now, overall, the crop looks really good.”
This year the farm has expanded its cold storage capacity “to help get the onions out of the field and have somewhere to put them until we can get them packed and moved,” Mr. Ray said.
And while Vidalia onions still represent the lion’s share at Ray Farms, its red onion deal grows year by year.
“Red onions have been a pretty good deal for us,” Mr. Ray said. “We’ve been doing that for about 10 years now. We started off with a few acres and add a little bit more every year and it’s turned into a pretty good deal for us. It’s a specialty thing, we can ship Vidalias and put a few reds on the same truck so it’s worked good in our program.”