A sweet tradition continues

A sweet tradition continues

Walla Walla’s world-famous crop is about ready for harvest Wednesday and our reporter Tori Cooper took a trip to Locati Farms to share a taste of something sweeter than most vegetables.

“Around 1900 my great grandfather Joe Locati migrated from Italy and then he like many other farmers, worked for a farmer that was here already,” Walla Walla Sweet Onion Farmer Michael Locati said.

Michael Locati is part of the fourth generation of farmers in his family who cultivated the first Walla Walla Sweet Onion crop.

His grandfather Joe Locati was the first to share his seeds with other Italian farmers in Walla Walla, introducing the sugary onion taste to the valley.

The 1900’s craze still holds root through today.

“It’s the best onion in the town, it’s really good for parties,” A Walla Walla Cherry Seller said.

It’s a crop even the sweet orange sellers also can’t get around.

They see the letter “o” and their mind turns it into onion instead of oranges and they stop and they demand, where’s the onions!” A Walla Walla Sweet Orange Seller said.

The demand spread rapidly helping to generate a boom in the onion market locally and across the country.

“A lot in the Pacific Northwest, some up into Canada and some down into California,” Locati said.

“Retail stores wanted to have a year round sweet onion,” Executive Director of the Walla Walla Sweet Onion Committee Kathryn Trommald said.

Trommald has spent the last 17 years helping protect Locati’s family crop from imitation.

“The marketing order protects this onion and distinguishes us in the market place so you can’t raise a Walla Walla Sweet Onion outside our growing area,” Locati continued.

The Walla Walla Sweet Onion is a very seasonal crop and the valley is a perfect place for it to thrive.

“We have a temperate climate and we have really good soils,” Locati added.

The valley dirt is low in sulfur which helps create the sweet taste.

Since the onion can’t be stored for long, each one is hand-picked, bagged right away and hopefully on the shelf in seven to ten days.

With 14 hour days and 500 acres to pick per year Locati has few applicants.

“We have to have someone to do this and we have to pay them well to do it,” Locati said.

Locati just happy to have his town Walla Walla on his side.

“Having the support from the community means a lot to us and the farmers out here. Not only just the Walla Walla Sweet Onion farmers but all farmers in Walla Walla,” Locati concluded.