Have you ever picked up an onion in the grocery store and thought of how it got there? Where it came from?
The first stop on our road trip was to an onion and celery farm in western Michigan. We were able to make this stop as part of a sponsored opportunity with the National Onion Association and Michigan Onion Growers.
Bruce Klamer, of V & W Farms, Inc. invited us to visit his farm in Byron Center, Michigan to learn how onions and celery are grown and did we ever learn a lot about both of them.
We arrived on a drizzly windy day in Michigan – lake effect weather in full force – but that didn’t stop us from hopping into his truck and heading to the fields. From the history of the fields we walked to onion varietals to harvest time, we learned so much about how that onion ended up in your hand at the grocery store.
About Michigan Onion Farmers
Onions were first grown in Michigan by Dutch immigrants. Coming from similar land, the Dutchmen were experts at building up marshy land and turning it into fertile growing ground and so they did, growing fields and fields of onions.
Bruce’s farm is one of a number of dwindling onion farms in Michigan still growing onions for a number of factors: as cities grow larger the government is buying farmland to turn back into wetlands, small farms get bought out by larger farms, and children grow up and move on to different careers.
These are all factors that play into the crises of family farms disappearing all across our country and it’s a problem that affects your table and mine. As family farms disappear our ability to get fresh food grown in the USA lessens and as we buy less USA produce family farms dwindle even more. The best way YOU can help your farmer is ask where your produce comes from, yes, even at your local farmer’s market – ask them if they grow it themselves or source it from someone else.
About Michigan Onions
While we can get onions year-round, did you know onions are seasonal? There are spring/summer onions and fall/winter onions. Both grow in yellow, white, and red but the skins are different. According to the National Onion Association, spring/summer onions have lighter thinner skins and fall/winter onions have thicker darker colored skins. This fact was an “aha” moment for me. I always wondered why they sometimes have thin papery skins and why they sometimes have thick skins.
Spring/summer onions usually have a sweeter and milder flavor while fall/winter onions tend to vary from mild to pungent. Winter onions usually have a lower water content and longer shelf life.
While at the farm we learned that onions are ready for harvest when the green onion scape turns brown and lays flat. They are then harvested and dried. Bruce said he likes to make a windrow right in the field until they dry and cure.
5 Fun Facts about Onions
- Fall/Winter harvested yellow onions caramelize easier.
- Approximately 85% of onions grown are yellow, 8-10% red, 5% white.
- Store onions in a cool dry place – NOT the refrigerator.
- Onions are a good source of Vitamin C and fiber
- The strong odor onions give off is called Sulfenic Acid.
- The outer skin of an onion is the very first part of the bulb to grow. As it grows new layers grow inside, pushing the first layers outward.
Next time you buy an onion take a moment to really appreciate the farmer who grew it. Who hires people to help plant and harvest. Who worries that the hailstorm in the forecast will come wipe out his crop and could potentially end his livelihood for good. Who works with a company or grocer to get the product to the store. The people who truck it. The grocer who stocks it and answers your questions.
Next time you use an onion take a moment to really look at it. As you peel it, inspect the skin – the tough exterior, the shimmery interior, the fingers that grew in the ground, pushing each previous finger outward until it became a bulb. As you cut it think about the scent. Look at the amount of water in it. Slice it thinly, chop it, mince it, savor it. Take a minute to thank your farmer.
Savor Onions in These Recipes
Campfire Roasted Salsa Egg Sandwiches made with Michigan Onions