The mobile home that Nancy Lugo and her two children live in might not seem like much to many people.
It sits off a dirt road, by a slow-moving creek, on the outskirts of the tiny Georgia town of Uvalda. It is surrounded by thick forest and fields full of the local speciality: Vidalia onions.
But for Lugo, 34, it is a symbol of a better life in America. Here in Georgia, far from her native Mexico, Lugo has a solid job, sends her kids to school and loves the rhythm of rural life. “It is peaceful. I am happy here,” she said.
The patch of land she bought for her trailer was vacant before she came. But she dug a well and sank septic tanks, carving a home from the wilderness in a grand American tradition. She got a job. She paid her taxes.
Now it is all under threat.
For Lugo is an illegal immigrant in the deep south. In the midst of general anti-immigrant sentiment, several southern states have passed strict anti-illegal immigrant laws that critics say raises the prospect of a new Jim Crow era – the time when segregation was law
Maui Onions have long been considered among the best and most flavorful onions in the world. The Maui Onion only grows in the deep red, volcanic earth on the upper slopes of Haleakala, Maui’s world-famous dormant volcano.
Maui onions are a variety of sweet onion which are widely cultivated on the Hawaiian island of Maui, although they can be grown in other regions as well. Like other sweet onions, Maui onions lack the sulfur which causes the strong odor and sharp taste associated with onions. The State of Hawaii has invested a great of money in marketing their famous onion variety, putting it on par with Vidalia onions from Georgia, another sweet onion variety. Many markets carry Maui onions in season, along with other sweet varieties, and if you live in a temperate zone, you may be able to grow some yourself.
Hawaiian farmers claim that a true Maui onion must be grown on Maui, because this distinct onion cultivar flourishes best in the rich volcanic soil of Mount Haleakala, the dormant volcano which dominates the landscape of Maui. The volcano’s rich, distinctive red soil may well be responsible for the distinctive sweet flavor of the Maui onion, although the warm weather on the island probably has something to do with it as well.
South Carolina, which grows more peaches than the Peach State next door, might be putting a dent in another famous Georgia product soon – sweet onions.
Dozens of farmers joined leaders of the S.C. Department of Agriculture on Friday to start a publicity campaign for what they hope can expand from a new niche crop into another sweet source of profit from the fields.
Sweet onions aren’t a big deal here yet. South Carolina farmers have planted a little more than 60 acres this year, compared to about 14,000 acres of sweet onions in the Vidalia region of Georgia.
Palmetto Sweet Green Onions: "Eat one of these, and you’ll never want another Vidalia onion as long as you live," says Rep. Harry Ott, D-Calhoun, the only full-time farmer in the S.C. Legislature.
"We’re not trying to compete with Vidalia," said Martin Eubanks, director of marketing for the S.C. Department of Agriculture. On a broad scale, "we’re not going to be able to compete with 14,000 acres."
But others at the news conference apparently didn’t get that memo.
"Eat one of these, and you’ll never want another Vidalia onion as long as you live," said Sen. Harry Ott, D-Calhoun, the only full-time farmer in the S.C. Legislature.
Chris Rawl planted 6 acres of sweet onions this season on his family’s Lexington County farm, which hosted Friday’s gathering. They were the first in this soil since 2002, when Rawl ended a 10-year experiment with sweet onions that he believes was killed by marketing – or lack thereof.
"I’d get them to the market and people would ask, ‘Are they Vidalias?’ I’d say no, and they’d just walk," Rawl said.
But he insists South Carolina-grown onions taste just as sweet as Vidalias. "It’s not the soil, it’s not the climate," Rawl said. "Vidalia onions are just a fad, a marketing niche the Vidalia growers created."
Vidalia onions, by Georgia law, are grown only in 20 counties in that state. Growers there claim sulfur in the soil contributes to the onions’ unique flavor. Sales of Vidalia onions are estimated at $50 million annually.
Other famous sweet onion varieties are grown in Texas, New Mexico, Nevada and Hawaii.