Welcome to Vidalia
Georgia’s Vidalia Onion Museum opens April 29 in homage to the state’s famous vegetable.
By Erin Z. Bass
Visitors to Vidalia, Georgia, expect to see Vidalia onions. In fact, they expect the streets to be lined with them and their sweet smell to waft through the car windows as they enter town. It’s an expectation that former reporter and marketer for the onion farmers Wendy Brannen understands well. And it’s why she felt the town needed a proper museum dedicated to the vegetable.
It used to be that upon arrival to the Vidalia Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, visitors saw a sign out front advertising a “museum.” Brannen says the term was quite generous, as the museum consisted of a few posters and brochures. “It broke my heart when you had these people from faraway places who were so fascinated with our state vegetable and came all this way to see something,” she says.
Brannen decided to do something about the problem and now, five years later, has a new sign and a new title to show for it. As executive director of the brand-new Vidalia Onion Museum, she’ll be welcoming visitors starting April 29 to a 1,300-square-foot space filled with educational exhibits that highlight the sweet onion’s economic, cultural and culinary significance. Owned by the city and established in partnership with the Chamber of Commerce, CVB and Vidalia Onion committee and business council, the museum contains 10 exhibits on everything from the history of the onion to the fight for its official trademark.
“There had not been a well-rounded telling of the history of the onion, and I felt this crop and this industry and this community deserved that,” Brannen says says. Museum visitors can find out who really grew the onions first – a fact disputed in many a local bar over the years – what famous family originally invested in the crop and how many times the onion has popped up in pop culture. Then, there are the Vidalia love letters, from the likes of Clarence Thomas to the Clintons, Julia Child and Chef Bobby Flay.
“So many people have reached out through the years and talked to us about how much they enjoy our product,” says Brannen. “There is this love affair with the Vidalia onion. It’s just like going to get Florida oranges.”
In with her original mission, Brannen does promise that visitors will see a real, live Vidalia onion on site. “We actually planted an onion plot right out in front of the building,” she says. “You walk through the onions and into the museum, and if you want to touch or smell a Vidalia onion, then you can do so.”
The Vidalia Onion Museum officially opens at 3 p.m., Friday, April 29, and is housed in the same building as the Vidalia Onion Committee, Vidalia Area Convention & Visitors Bureau and Vidalia Onion Business Council. Opening events include cooking demos by “Top Chef” fan favorite Kevin Gillespie of Woodfire Grill, award-winning Chef Gerry Klaskala of Aria, “Top Chef” contestant Tracey Bloom of Ray’s at Killer Creek, James Beard Award-winner Jeffrey Buben of Vidalia restaurant and “Southern My Way” cookbook author Gena Knox. In addition, the museum opening coincides with the start of the annual Vidalia Onion Festival, held throughout the weekend.
In general, the Vidalia Onion Museum will be open to the public Monday-Friday from 9 a.m.-5 p.m., with Saturday hours available for tours. For more information, visit www.vidaliaonion.org or call 912-537-1918.