South Carolina farmers are now growing a new variety of vegetable that state officials hope will further expand a growing market for locally-grown foods. Sweet onions have a lower sulphur content and don’t have the pungent taste of most onions.
Martin Eubanks is director of Marketing for the Department of Agriculture. He spoke about what makes sweet onions so unique.
The flesh is generally a little more translucent, a little more water in the onion, and the variety in and of itself is the genetics. The genetics are such that it is sweet. It has higher sugars that make the sweet onion.
The new onions are part of the Agriculture Department’s “Certified South Carolina” branding effort. Eubanks says the program targets South Carolinians who try to buy only fruit and vegetables grown in the area.
Local consumers are looking for local products. . . more diverstiy of local products. And that’s what’s driving a lot of this opportunity. So it’s consumer demand.
Eubanks said Agriculture department research found 90 percent of South Carolina consumers want to buy locally.
The challenge those consumers were having were identifying those products that were available in the market place. Thus, we created opportunities to connect those dots between the consumer and the product, so that they can identify the product on the shelf, whether it’s a fresh product -whether it’s a grocery product, and then make an informed decision.
Chris Rawl oversees the planting at Clayton Rawl Farms in Lexington County. He says he decided to start growing Vidalia sweet onions 18 years ago. But without the state helping to promote the onions, there was little demand.
At the time we were unsuccessful. We didn’t have other farmers growing them, and we didn’t have the state involved in promotions. After about eight years of experimenting, we decided to quit.
Rawl says several grocery chains and food distributors were already showing interest in the onions. He said Piggly-Wiggly, W. Lee Flowers and Company (owner of 30 IGA stores in South Carolina), and U.S. Food Service Distributors were at the farm Friday.