Inside Harvest with a Grower

This week I have the ultimate privilege of introducing you to one of America’s onion producers. Steven Benson and his family have been growing onions, lettuce, melons, cotton, and alfalfa/alfalfa seed in the Imperial Valley of California since his Great Grandfather moved to the area in the early 1900’s. For many years, they have sold their onions under the labels “Big John” and “Sweet Caroline”.

O: How is harvest going so far Steven?
Steven: Well, we just got started this week, but we have good weather and adequate help so that certainly makes us feel like we are ready for a good run.

O: How would you describe the harvest process to others?
Steven: Harvesting onions is a labor intensive, hands-on process. The type of onion we grow has a high water content and has to be handled right so they don’t get bruised or damaged. It takes a lot of people working together from the field to the packing shed to put the best quality onions into the consumers hands and that’s our goal.

O: This year, what will your biggest challenge be during harvest?
Steven: To get the onions out of the field in a timely fashion. Every year, we worry about how the weather and heat will change our plans! We need moderate ground temperatures for the onions to cure properly before we take them out of the field. Today, we’ve had great weather – it’s been in the low to mid 90’s. But, the forecast for later in the week is calling for 70 degree temps. We hope that cool spell moves through here fast or not at all.

O: What are you the most excited about with this year’s crop?
Steven: We planted 8-10 different varieties this year so I am really interested to see how each variety turns out. Some we have planted before, some we haven’t. Our goal was to have a variety of onions with different maturity dates. We didn’t want all the onions  ready at the same time.  It would be impossible to harvest them at once. We also choose different onions to meet the needs of different customers. Some of our onions will go to retail stores, others will go to processors who use onions for soups, sauces, or other products. Every onion is unique. The seed variety, soil, and weather has a big effect on how an onion will develop and taste. I get really excited to see the final product.

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