Vidalia Onion Pioneer W.J. Grimes Remembered For Sweet Onion Marketing

W.J. Grimes, one of the Vidalia sweet onion industry’s pioneers, is remembered for his contributions to expanding the sweet onion industry.

Grimes, 84, died Nov. 3 at his Helena, GA, home.

Grimes, owner of W.J. Grimes Farms Inc., based in McCrae, GA, was a pioneer in controlled atmosphere (CA) storage, which allowed grower-shippers to extend their season. Before adoption of CA storage, Vidalia onions were harvested in April and May, cured and then shipped to supermarkets. CA technology allowed growers to store and ship onions through the summer.

“He was one of the most influential growers in the industry,” says Bob Stafford, manager of the Vidalia, GA-based Vidalia Onion Committee and the Vidalia Onion Business Council. “He was well-liked and well-respected. He was the grandfather of CA storage.”

During the early to mid- 1980s, at the start of the Vidalia deal, growers in Toombs and Tattnall counties, the principal Vidalia production counties which include Vidalia, Lyons, GA, Reidsville, GA, and Glennville, GA, called their onions “Vidalia” and “Glennville” sweet onions, respectively.  Growers and lawmakers worked to seek state and federal protection of the sweet onion by strictly defining its growing region.

In 1988, Grimes was one of a small group of growers who traveled to Washington, DC, to persuade the U.S. Department of Agriculture to form the Vidalia Onion Committee, which administers Federal Marketing Order No. 955. The committee began operation in 1989.

“He (Grimes) didn’t take no for an answer,” says Stafford. “He was very knowledgeable on production.”

In 1998, Grimes was voted Vidalia Grower of the Year and in 1999, he was inducted into the Vidalia industry’s Hall of Fame.

Services were Nov. 5. Grimes was preceded in death by his parents and a daughter, Lynn Strom.

Survivors include his wife, Bernice Grimes, two sons, Jimmy Grimes and Wayne Grimes, three grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. He is also survived by three brothers and several nieces and nephews.

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