Michael Locati grows sweet onions on the same land in the Walla Walla Valley that his great grandfather planted in 1905.
The seeds that Locati puts into the earth today are family heirlooms. “My great grandfather worked for a man who came to this area from Corsica. Eventually, that man gave my great grandfather some of his onion seeds. I’m the fourth generation of my family to grow these sweet onions on this land.”
Those seeds came to America from the Mediterranean island off the coast of France in the late 1800s. Through decades of careful cultivation and selection of the strongest seeds from the previous year’s crop, Locati’s family and other growers created large, sweet, and bulbous onions.
These are the Walla Walla onions.
The Walla Walla onions, first planted by Locati’s great grandfather, are so important to the region that the area is now a federally protected growing area. Sweet onions grown outside this area cannot be marketed as Walla Walla sweet onions.
These onions are one of a kind.
There are now 18 family farms growing Walla Walla onions, but they can only produce these onions because of the generations of work of the Locati family.
As Michael Locati says, “It feels great to be able to pass on this tradition. In growing these onions, I feel like I’m part of a legacy. This story is a positive motivator to get through the tough times of farming.”
Anyone who has been on a farm before knows the work is not easy. The current national inflation and global shipping challenges are taking their toll on the prices for anything a farm needs to function. As Locati says, “We’ve had to raise our prices relative to the inflation of everything else. I think everyone understands this is a pass-through deal. It hurts. But there’s nothing else we can do.”
Still, Locati has a laconic, long-term view on this. “My family’s farm survived the 1980s. We’ll survive this too.”
Those challenges are part of what makes farming a joy for Michael Locati. “No day is the same in this job. Every day, my team and I have to overcome a new challenge. The weather? You never know what that’s going to be. We’ve had a long rainy season this year. Is that going to affect this year’s crop? I think we’re in pretty good shape. I think the onions are going to be good quality. I have high hopes. The size looks good. They should have a nice crunch. But we’ll see.”
Locati lets out a low chuckle. “At least all these challenges keep you young.”
This particularly rainy spring has been both a blessing and a curse for the farm. On the one hand, the rain is a huge relief. The drought last year was tough, so rain is always welcome. But this much rain? “Last week we had 1.7 inches of rain,” says Locati. “We haven’t been able to start harvesting yet.”
But Locati knows that Walla Walla sweet onions grow best with a constant supply of a little water. “You have to start with good soil. You can try to grow these anywhere but they won’t work well anywhere but here. We have good soil with high organic matter. And the way the Walla Walla River feeds that soil, all its little capillaries — it’s pretty significant.”
The onions that this confluence of soil, water, and skilled farmers produces are extraordinary. “They have an upfront water explosion, followed by a mild onion flavor. They remind me of summer,” says Locati.
Locati and his family look forward to the time of year when they can eat Grandma’s Salad: slices of sweet onions, tomatoes, and cucumbers, dressed with salt, pepper, apple cider vinegar, and olive oil.
That’s a tradition, that salad. That’s the first salad of summer.
What would Michael Locati and the folks who work at his farm like you to know?
“I want people who buy these onions to know that a lot goes into that onion you’re about to slice for your salad. There have been a lot of eyes on that onion. A lot of time. A lot of people. Farming isn’t an easy thing to do. But most folks take that work for granted.”
Metropolitan Market is proud to carry Locati Farm Walla Walla sweet onions. This relationship means a lot to Locati and his family.
“I really appreciate the support of Metropolitan Market. And it’s good to see how Metropolitan Market recognizes their farmers. The food that customers buy doesn’t just appear out of the air. There’s a family trying to put dinner on their family’s table who grew those onions for you.”
The next time you buy and slice a Walla Walla sweet onion from Locati Farms, think of the family who grew them for you.