Meyer Named to Vidalia Onion Hall of Fame
Mclain Farms Named Grower of the Year
Longtime Director of Markets for the Georgia Department of Agriculture Bob Meyer was honored for his work with the Vidalia Onion as he was inducted into the Vidalia Onion Hall of Fame at Saturday night’s Vidalia Onion Banquet and Awards Ceremony at the Vidalia Community Center. Meyer, who is from the Wrightsville area, was presented the award which honors a person who has significantly and positively impacted the Vidalia Onion industry, by Vidalia Onion Committee Chairman Cliff Riner after a heartfelt address from Vidalia Onion Committee Manager Bob Stafford and 2017 Vidalia Onion Hall of Famer R.T. Stanley.
“Bob started working for the Department of Agriculture in Atlanta around 1972,” Stafford informed the crowd. “For the last 17 years, Bob served as the Director of Markets. He was over all the markets in the state. The Vidalia Onion Program comes under the Georgia Department of Agriculture’s supervision, as far as the trademark continued from page
is concerned. Bob Meyer handled the creation of the trademark. For years, he was always there to help us with this project.”
Stanley added to Stafford’s comments. “Every time I see Bob, he has a smile,” Stanley remarked. “I remember every time I have gone to Atlanta, Bob would meet us, and he would be smiling. He never quit smiling, which means he must be a very happy man.”
According to Stanley, Meyer is best described as a guardian for the agricultural markets in Georgia. “For as long as I can remember, Bob has been a protector for the marketing division of the Department of Agriculture,” the fellow Hall of Famer boasted. “He got his start around the same time that the Vidalia Onion was beginning to get popular, and he would always help the entire industry in any way he could.”
The biggest claim to fame for Meyer’s reputation is his establishment of the trademark for the Vidalia Onion, and the royalties associated with that name. Stafford and Stanley recounted several instances where it seemed like that accomplishment would not be possible for the industry, yet with Meyer’s hard work and determination, the Vidalia Onion empire was born.
Upon receiving this award, Meyer commented on the honor. “It is very humbling and surprising that I am here receiving this award today,” he emphasized. “I have seen from the inside out what you all have done with this industry and I don’t know if you realize, but you have one of the most unique products in the world. I don’t think there is another state or Department of Agriculture in the country that enforces trademark laws or protects its product like the state of Georgia does for your product.”
He concluded, “Why does everyone want to call their onion a Vidalia Onion? Why are there always taste testers to see if there is an onion sweeter than a Vidalia Onion? You have the product. Don’t let it slip. It is a good product. I’ve seen it, I’ve worked with you, and the reason I believe I am here receiving this award is that you were successful, which made me successful, too.”
Georgia Commissioner of Agriculture Gary Black also spoke about Meyer’s reception of this award. “I have known the Hall of Fame inductee for many years, and this honor is very well deserved,” Black noted. “Thank you, Bob, for many years invested in the agriculture of our state.”
Grower of the Year
McLain Farms took home the other of the two ultimate honors at the event, as the company received the Vidalia Onion Grower of the Year Award.
McLain Farms is owned and operated by brothers Brett and Rusty McLain, who are not strangers to this honor since they have received it several years. The pair has become known for not only their devotion to their product, but also to their families and the community, as the company begins handing its responsibilities off to the next generation. The brothers addressed the crowd upon receiving the award. “A lot goes into the growing part of the business,” Brett McLain explained. “That’s my job and that’s the easy part. The hard part happens at the shed. What Rusty has to do is what makes him deserve this award more than I.”
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Rusty McLain responded, “Of course, I totally disagree with that entire statement. You have to have something good to work with to put something good out, and Brett makes sure I have that. We also could not do what we do without our entire team and the support of the community, thank you for this honor.” The Grower of the Year Award has been presented to selected farms annually for more than 25 years, and is given to the individual/ farm based on yield and what is done for the industry. The recipient of the award is not known prior to the Awards Ceremony, but three finalists are selected annually. The finalists for this year’s Grower of the Year Award were A & M Farms, Sikes Farms, and McLain Farms.
The Service Excellence Award is not given annually, but is a special award given to individuals who provide outstanding service and help to the Vidalia Onion Industry. This year, the award was given to University of Georgia Plant Pathologist Bhabesh Dutta, who has helped to study the onion crop and find ways to improve production. Vidalia Onion Committee Chairman Cliff Riner spoke about Dutta’s work for the Vidalia Onion Industry. “He works directly with onions in a big way,” he told the audience. “He is known not only nationally, but worldwide, and does a very impressive job publishing and doing research and extension work for our industry. I have worked with many University of Georgia extension faculty in many fields, but Bhabesh is the most impressive on both the academic and research side, and he really has the needs of the growers at heart. He doesn’t want a problem to keep affecting and infecting us. He wants to find a solution.”
Dutta addressed the crowd upon receiving this recognition. “I was not expecting this honor,” he emphasized. “Thank you Cliff, and thank you everyone for the honor of presenting information about the Vidalia Onion to the nation and to the world.”
Courtney Wilkes Ag Scholarship Winner
The Vidalia Onion Committee presents a scholarship to a high school senior who is planning to study in the agricultural field and who embodies the same work ethic and excellence as the late Courtney Wilkes. Wilkes was the 15 yearold daughter of Cordy and Toni Wilkes. She was very active in the local Future Farmers of America and 4H Chapters, and a devoted student. She planned to study to become a veterinarian after graduation, but sadly her life was cut short when she was tragically murdered while on a family vacation in 2011. The scholarship is given in her honor and memory to an individual whom the Committee deems worthy. This year’s recipient, Ethan Hyers, entered the room with an attitude that mirrored that of Wilkes’, according to Vidalia Onion Committee Manager Bob Stafford. “When asked what his goals were for his life, Ethan immediately replied, ‘I am going to be the Secretary of Agriculture,’” Stafford informed the audience. “From that moment on, he had our attention. It was like Courtney had sent him to us.” Hyers was unable to attend the event, but his parents sat alongside the Wilkes family at the banquet in his absence.
Last year’s Vidalia Onion Chairman Aries Haygood was presented with the President’s Award for his work on behalf of the committee. Riner addressed Haygood’s work for the industry. “We appreciate everything you have done for us and the time you have devoted to our market,” he said.
National Project Announcement
National Onion Association Vice President Greg Yielding flew into town from Colorado to inform the local farmers of a national project which he and Vidalia Onion Committee Alternate Michael Hively have been actively working on. “One thing we are doing nationwide, and Mr. Michael Hively is helping with this, is an update to the Onion Food Safety Committee,” he noted. “Ten years ago, the NOA did a food safety plan for onions for the United States, but an update is very necessary.”
According to Yielding, this plan revision features input from representatives in every area of the country, including Hively, who volunteered to represent the region. This group will also be lobbying in Washington, D.C., for reform on immigration, cost of fuel, and other issues that greatly affect the onion industry.
Closing Remarks Ceremony Emcee John Koon closed the awards portion of the event with words of encouragement for farmers. “This product is not only a great thing, it is one of the reasons Vidalia and the surrounding area is as successful as it is,” he emphasized. “No matter where I have ever been, people have associated Vidalia with the onions. We are here today because you decided to choose this profession and keep that tradition going, a decision you all made many years ago. Thank you for what you all do.”