Growing onions is something I’ve never done. But if you have ever stood in the produce aisle looking at the various bays of onions and wondered which ones you should buy, I feel your pain.
Shay Myers and his family have been growing onions & enjoying them for decades. Their farm — Owyhee Produce — packs and ships onions to all 50 states from his home base in Idaho. And with that depth of experience, he knows a lot about buying and enjoying onions.
We talk through that purchase decision in the grocery, the differences in sweetness and pungency, how onions get rated through a measure called pyruvics, tips for storing onions at home and the way the lifecycle of onions from harvest & storage was really impacted by the stay at home orders.
Choosing Onions for your Home
Wondering whether to buy a red, white or yellow onion for something you want to make? It gets a lot easier once you hear Shay’s advice.
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Yellows are for cooking. Reds are for sweet and raw. Whites are for pungent and raw. Don’t cook reds or whites.
As Shay and I talked, I wanted to eat all the fajitas as well as salsas. A niece who was cooking while I edited the podcast carmelized some onions in butter to make a quesadilla, and I totally wanted to run in there and steal them from her plate!
Shay’s interest in onion on a burger was met with a giggle as he said he doesn’t have a special recipe to share. I immediately thought of a hot onion dip (also called a souffle) that a friend had taught me to make with frozen onions, parmesan and cream cheese. It’s killer!
Appreciate Shay talking with us about the way onions are grown. After hearing his explanation of water sensitivity, I understand why I haven’t tried growing onions but that urban gardeners like Nastasha in Chicago may be willing to give it a go.
His description of harvest, not digging but cutting onions that sit atop the ground, makes sense but he’s right, the video really helps!
We also talked briefly about this video explaining the impact of shut downs of restaurants across the United States on farm businesses like his that supply a lot of restaurants with food.
Other Links of Interest From this Episode
There were several links we mentioned in the episode — including some of the social media sites Shay is active on!
- Tim Hammerich of the Future of Ag podcast spent time driving around Owyhee Produce. It’s a bit of a farm tour.
- Shay Myers’ appearance on the podcast Market to Market was produced as farmers were dealing with impacts of reduced restaurant demand for their products.
Find Shay Myers online
- LinkedIn Shay Myers
- Instagram @ShayFarmKid
- TikTok @ShayFarmKid
- YouTube Owyhee Produce
- Facebook Owyhee Produce
- Owyhee Produce website
Where to find Grounded by the Farm on social media:
- GroundedbytheFarm.com for photos, blog posts, show notes and more
- Ask the Farmers Facebook Page
- Groundedbythefarm_ on Instagram
- Grounded by the Farm on Youtube
- @groundedbythef on Twitter
Detailed, Raw Transcript of the Onion Episode with Shay Myers
Grounded by the Farm 00:02
Food is more than just what’s on our plate. It’s the places where it’s grown. It’s the people who grow it and so much more. Join me, Janice Person, your host on Grounded by the Farm every other week as we talk about the foods we love. Hey everybody, this is Janice and I am so excited to tell you about this episode. I’m a huge fan of savory foods. And savory foods would be nowhere without the topic of this week, which is onions. We’re talking to Shea Meyers of a why he produce in Idaho and a little bit on the Oregon side of the state line. We talked all things onions, we talk about storage. We talk about sweet onions versus savory onions, yellow, why red how to pick which one you want to use. Talk about planting them if you’re doing a garden, all those kind of things, and we even talk about his uncle’s pimped out pantry. All of that and more with the guide that goes by Shea farm kid on a lot of social media. I got to know him through LinkedIn where he’s been telling his story for quite a while. We’re gonna start with a big digression because I had to know about the name Hawaii. Hold on. And here we go. Is it a Ye? Oh ye
Shay Myers 01:22
Yes, almost like Hawaii. In fact, that’s where the name came from. It’s an 18th century spelling of Hawaii. Really? Yeah.
Grounded by the Farm 01:31
So I’m assuming it’s like Native American.
Shay Myers 01:34
I think the French for traders we’re gonna dissolute now we’re gonna go a little bit like started with a digression like from the very beginning. The French first traders, when beaver pelts were all the rage brought people from the Sandwich Islands, the Hawaiian Islands to our area to trap the beaver and the rivers and the streams. And a group of them went into the mountains and never returned and an homage to them. They named the mountains, the Hawaii mountains or the Hawaii mountains.
Grounded by the Farm 02:03
Wow. So that’s like an area of Idaho, specifically a county or region.
Shay Myers 02:09
It’s a region it’s really kind of the triste like a tri corner region. It’s Oregon, Nevada and Idaho, kind of where the three corners come together right here in the desert,
Grounded by the Farm 02:20
perfect, perfect. And your company is right in that area. You you work on different sides of the state line. But really, you’re outside of there. So help me understand what why he produce does, because onions is a big force that we’re going to talk about, but I know you do a little bit more to
Shay Myers 02:36
so a lot of folks assume that farmers either do what we do, which is a vertically integrated farm, which means we grow all our crops, or you’re just a pack or someone who packs the crop. We grow a lot of different crops, eight or nine different crops actually are in our rotation. But there’s really a core of crops that are really our moneymakers, if you will, the the crops that we rely on. And those are primarily onions, mint, asparagus, sugar beets, and to some extent sweet potatoes were new into sweet potatoes. So wouldn’t call them a real big moneymaker yet. But they are, you know, something that that helps us bring money into the business. What we do though, is not just grow those crops, we pack them, and then market them, you know, to different areas throughout the country. And our core really what we rely on the most what will I guess our calling card what initially opened the door for us was asparagus. And that’s we like to joke that the Peruvian drug trade is actually what got us into various connected to that. Because the the US government decided in about 1998 that they were going to stop the cocaine production in Peru by teaching the Peruvians how to grow asparagus. So they would take their poppy fields out and put asparagus them well, what they ended up doing is subsidizing to a major level US corporations to go to Peru and put in their packing facility or their canning facilities and all of the production of us went away. And so we had to react. And that was my mom back in I was in 9998 99 I was a senior in high school. So my mom lived like we like to throw people to the wolves in our family. And so she was just thrown to the wolves and had to figure out how to fresh pack and market asparagus. And so she learned how to do that. And then with onions, we kind of followed suit. We learned that lesson, how to do that and how to how to pack and take care of the customer and everything that that entails. And then obviously the sweet potatoes kind of followed in the same direction.
Grounded by the Farm 04:42
So onions is not something I feel get the right attention. They don’t necessarily get a lot of thought. But the minute you have a cube steak and you didn’t have onions when you were cooking it he knows something’s missing. Right so help me understand what kind of Place, being an onion farmer specifically is Who are the people that are like, Yay, onions.
Shay Myers 05:08
You know, I guess the young people are in the northwest of the US, Idaho, Oregon. So a lot of people think of Idaho. They’re like potatoes, like, they’ve done a phenomenal job marketing Idaho is a potato state. But it’s also Idaho and Oregon, this this area that borders both states, this valley is one of the if not the largest, onion growing region in the United States, and one of the largest in the world. So I mean, I guess we we have a lot of who raw, you know, high five moments around this area, because the economy, the especially the agricultural economy, lives and dies, via onions. If we have a good onion near the tractor dealership at the local hardware store, and the lumber, you know, the guy selling lumber and hardware for houses, you know, all of that kind of stuff. Yeah, knows when there’s a good idea in here because of the way that those dollars flow into the economy. And so I think that’s pretty easy for us to get excited about it because of the originality and how important it is for where we live.
Grounded by the Farm 06:08
Yeah, and I really do think that outside that area, it’s frequently taken for granted. I can remember earlier this spring, suddenly, people had to think about onions, because when they went to the grocery store, they couldn’t get potatoes and they couldn’t get onions. And so they suddenly were like, wait a minute, what’s going on? I know your family, farm your operation, it was pretty heavily impacted by that sudden awareness of people that onions weren’t there. But you are facing a very different end of that spectrum. Tell me how that what went down for you guys.
Shay Myers 06:43
Yeah. So initially, when when everything occurred, and everyone was doing, I think the politically correct term was stockpiling, not hoarding. They were stockpiling all of this, you know, food, canned food, and then hearty vegetables that they could store. We saw a huge impact, like, you know, everything was like there was an initial slowdown. And then but then there was a spike in retail. But that spike in retail only lasted for a couple of weeks. And then the impact of all the restaurant closures. And the school closures and the sporting venue closures were felt extensively in our area, because a huge portion of our onions probably 70%, not of ours on our farm. But at this region, 70% of those organs are sold to food service and processors. If you think about it, when you go out to eat, if you’re, it really doesn’t matter where to go. But if you go to Olive Garden, you got those red onions on your salad. If you don’t like onions, it doesn’t matter. Those Come on your salad, you take them side and you don’t need them. If you get a hamburger, at most places, it comes with an onion, whether you want it or you don’t want it. And so that that utilization, and the restaurants for flavor for inexpensive flavoring, because they’re also really cheap. We felt that really quickly because that extra consumption, and frankly, waste in some cases was not there. Yeah, and a lot of people won’t like to hear that. But the industry like a lot of what we do is reliant on large utilization, like by restaurants and and processors. And the natural course of events for that is some of that stuff is put on a plate and not utilized. And so we we felt that, and we felt really, really, really painful with with some pretty significant pain when it came to the last portion of our season. Because we were we were going to store for nine months.
Grounded by the Farm 08:39
Shay Myers 08:40
so we but the end of our season is roughly we’ll call it the end of April. Well, when all of this happened, if you look at the timing, we were at the end of the life expectancy, or the shelf life of those onions. So had we had been the beginning of our season we could have cushion the blow by spreading out our sales or capturing more sales later, but the timing was just awful. So there were a lot of onions that were simply put into compost pits, or put back on fields as green fertilizer because there wasn’t an alternative.
Grounded by the Farm 09:10
Yeah, that’s gotta suck. I mean, just to do that, I mean, I I feel bad when I’m cleaning out my refrigerator and realize I’ve wasted food at home. And I think for farmers generally you’re thinking about producing it for people bring joy to their plate, bring flavor to their plate, and to have a lot that goes unused or unsold and some of those you’ve probably had contracts or at least agreements on and so I can only imagine I remember you doing some videos. One of the things people should know about you Shay is you do so many videos on LinkedIn YouTube, like you’re everywhere. Do Tick tock
Shay Myers 09:48
tick tock tick tock spying But yeah, I don’t I’m not on Instagram very much but I am now a little bit because I do my tic tocs and I can put them on Instagram but but the the main place you’ll find is LinkedIn. That was really where I started. Because if I was really a b2b platform, a business to business platform, and that’s really who’s buying our produce, but it is slowly transitioned my content, because of the thirst for information really is turned from a from a business to business to business to consumer, or a farmer to consumer type of content. And I try and teach people the simplest things about farming and onions and food and food waste and all of those things that I can, because people want to learn so much.
Grounded by the Farm 10:30
Yeah, so in the world of onions, what kind of onions Do you guys grow?
Shay Myers 10:36
We grow really every type of onion. I mean, we grow a regular yellow cooking onion, as it’s called, we call it in the industry of Spanish onion. We do red onions, we do red sweet onions, we do white onions, we do yellow sweet onions. And we even dabble a little bit in Oregon on eigenes residuos
Grounded by the Farm 10:55
for people who don’t know how to pick which onion to use for different things, how would you explain it you use one as a cooking onion. So the yellows?
Shay Myers 11:05
Yeah, so there’s obviously a little bit of controversy behind this. I always get sick critics that don’t agree and and everyone’s
Grounded by the Farm 11:11
everybody gets to pick.
Shay Myers 11:13
Yeah, my opinion is and this is largely how it happens. A yellow onion, a regular brown skin like a brown onion is for cooking. The sugar content is actually higher than any other type of onion in a brown onion efforts, but it’s going to carmelize the best. So if you’re cooking, use a brown. If you’re in a raw setting and you want to do something that’s raw, you can use a red or a white. But if you want oniony strong, powerful onion flavor, you use a white onion. And if you want a little bit of sweetness, you use a random but I would recommend not cooking a red or a white both are going to not really formalized and tastes anything like what a regular brown yellow onions gonna taste like. And then and the sweet onion guys will hate me for this. But the sweet onion, the water content, the sheer contents there, but the water contents really high. So it’s really kind of a waste to cook a sweet on you too. If you’re going to cook, pick that really Brown, you know lots, and you’ll enjoy it a lot better in my opinion.
Grounded by the Farm 12:13
Yeah. And the sweet onions. So help me understand. There’s Vidalia sweet onions, which is kind of like just the geography, right? Like it’s grown in Georgia, in a specific area, the varieties that you’re talking about planting, are they similar to that they just don’t have the Vidalia name or
Shay Myers 12:34
so the thing about Medallia the Dahlia had and still has a phenomenal idea. And I’m going into way too much detail here. But what’s happened is they had a really good market and made a really a lot of money. And they kind of went for volume and production and went away from their flavor profile. If you want the sweetest the best sweet onion in the country, frankly, it’s a Walla Walla sweet. And like a Walla Walla comes out of Washington only in the summer. Probably one of the best weed I guess there is a dahlias. Second, though of Italian is good. It’s not It’s not that it’s bad. It’s just not what it used to be. And then number three, what’s so they grow a different, what used to be a flat type onion versus a globe, a grandmother versus a Grant’s most of the varieties that were growing in the northwest for the most part are a storage pipe Bunyan, and they are going to have a higher potency or pungency. They’re going to be oniony or they’re gonna be stronger, they’re gonna be more likely to create tears. Now there’s some new varieties out there like that sweet red that we have is unbelievable. It’s crazy, crazy, crazy good. But what’s odd about that is we can’t sell it right as it comes out of the field that actually has to sit in storage for a few months for the pungency to go down and for the shippers to come off. So if you pick the right onion, which is hard to do during the Northwest season, it’s hard to pick the right sweet because you’re you you might get a little bit of poison mixed in with your good stuff in that they could be a little spicy, we are our onions if it’s the wrong one, our sweets will be quite a bit spicier than what people are used to getting. If they got a wallet wallet as an example, or even a medallion. And that’s probably the best way I can answer that. So it’s number one. And yes enough by random number we don’t like the Texas 1015 is also really good. So I’d probably say Walla Walla number one, frankly, and I’ll get people missile man for this but at Texas 1015 number two, and the battalion number three, and then we’re probably number four unless you get just the perfect union from our growing region, but that’s going to be a lot more scarce. I think from a consistency standpoint, the order that I just put things in is a fair way to go.
Grounded by the Farm 14:36
So you just gave us a lot of geography at the same time Are those the primary places where onions are grown or just where sweet onions are green?
Shay Myers 14:44
So sweet onions, yeah, that’s the for onions in general. Um, it’s going to be California, Washington, Oregon and Idaho, the Northwest Texas and then Georgia. But Georgia has a really small piece of that.
Grounded by the Farm 15:00
Yeah, and you keep talking about the pungency or the oniony flavor, Is there like a scale for that like in peppers, they can tell you how hot something is.
Shay Myers 15:11
There is. Um, so there’s the pie Rubik’s, um, and the pie Rubik’s are what they measure the pungency of an onion with so it’s a scale of zero to 10 anything with a PI rubrics rate of under four and a half is considered a sweet anything from four and a half to five and a half is a mild and anything above that is not sweet whatsoever, which is a slight, when we talked about that cooking on you that Spanish on you, those are going to come in at seven or eight, they’re gonna be really hot, really, and you can think of the Rubik’s is like the tear creating factor, to a large extent like, those items are going to make you cry. But then when you cook them, you know, they’re not just because the fireworks are high does not mean that they’re going to cook up hot. So you can’t correlate it that way. This is only in the Roth and the Roth. Okay. So yeah, zero to 10, high Rubik’s DC, something which nobody advertises what it is, but a wall, a wall is going to come in sub three, and there’s a good chance that they’ll be two to two and a half of the paramedics. Wow, a ga is going to be usually between four and five. And I’m sure they get some varieties in there that are the two and a half three rates. And then in the northwest, we’re going to be in that four and a half five range. Also, when we’re doing our suites, most of the time with some rarities, you know, some rare varieties will come in, and then two and a half to three range. And then a 1015, Texas, I don’t know well enough, as far as how it tests, but I would assume that it’s, you know, below three,
Grounded by the Farm 16:40
or all of those use primarily is fresh onions. Are they also processed or frozen? or?
Shay Myers 16:47
Yeah, so most sweets, I think it’s fair to say, I’m not a big sweet player, I’m not in sweet market a lot. I mean, I dabble in it, I understand it is way better than the average listener, I guess on the show. But aside from that i’m not i’m not real good. Um, the sweets are generally going to be for retail. And I would assume I mean across all aspects of retail, but they’re not often in restaurants because they’re cooking with them. And they want that stable, you know spams type variety of onion, the Spanish onions? Well, let me go back whites are going to be mostly retail. reds are going to be probably 5050 retail and food service. And yellows are going to be like a regular storage Spanish yellow is probably 60%
Shay Myers 17:38
Shay Myers 17:41
and processing, and maybe more 70%. And the balance is going to be retail that the Spanish onion. And the reason that’s the case and the volume. Let’s let’s talk about that. And I’ll talk about that for a second. But yeah, 90, probably at its price per se 80% of all onions are yellow, that are grown and might be 70. And then you’d be 20% red, and then only 10%. White. Okay. Oh, To put that in perspective, the reason there’s so many more yellows that are utilized is because of food service. It’s really utilitarian food service restaurants, and processing. So the yellow onions, the Spanish things are used a lot in processing, if you buy breaded onion rings or onion rings at a restaurant that were frozen, or I instinctively freeze lots of the, you know, skolars or campbell soup or all of that kind of stuff where you’re buying either frozen onions, or canned onions or that kind of thing are going to be a cut from a regular storage yellow onion.
Grounded by the Farm 18:46
Yeah. And they save the kind of value add of red onions for some of the other uses and stuff. Right. Wow, that’s a lot to think about. So all the pasta sauces and things like that all the fajita dinners that you get at different places usually have yellow onions, the same kinds of onions that I buy a bag of three pounds or whatever.
Shay Myers 19:08
Yeah, it’s about the same. It’s exactly the same onion actually, in most cases
Grounded by the Farm 19:12
for your family operation. Do you guys actually process onions? cut them up for different things? Or is that somewhere else?
Shay Myers 19:20
Yeah, we have we have a division that we started two years ago that we call buck naked whole peeled onions. So buck naked does whole peel. So all that does is you take off, you cut the neck off, and you cut the roots off and peel it so that basically you have what you get at the store or these usually it’s people that are doing value add like meal prep, some type of like salsa mixes or that kind of thing. They get an onion that all they do is run through a dicer and it’s done. It’s ready to use. They don’t have to do any appeal. There’s no waste. Yeah, so we do a little bit of that. I mean, it’s we’re talking not even 1% of our total volume. But that started two years ago and then Just Just the processors that we supply as part of operations,
Grounded by the Farm 20:03
you know, you you see when you go into like five guys or something they’re doing the potatoes, you could see them doing that with onions in order to make different things that you might want to be making. Yeah, it’s kind of interesting. I hadn’t thought about it, but I probably haven’t given onions enough thought as is. Our shallots, onions.
Shay Myers 20:24
Dalits are a cross between garlic and onions. I don’t know all the genetics behind that. But it’s garlic. It’s garlic and onion. So it’s kind of an in between between the two. So you’ll notice when you get sharp, Charlotte’s, they don’t have close, but they have multiple hearts, you know, there’s there can be multiple separate kind of groupings of plants. And that’s kind of the garlic side. But they also ring out, you’ll notice that their rings like onions have rings. Whereas a garlic if you cut a clove, there’s no ring there at all. Right, right. It’s kind of a cross between the two.
Grounded by the Farm 20:55
I had no idea. That’s really very cool. What is the best way to like store onions at home?
Shay Myers 21:02
I get that question all the time. I need to do it. Tick Tock on. First of all, the most important thing is airflow. Onions need air to stay. So don’t put them somewhere completely stagnant where there’s zero air.
Grounded by the Farm 21:13
So a pantry with the door shut bad idea.
Shay Myers 21:16
It’s not the worst. I mean, like the worst thing you can do is put it in a high humidity drawer of your refrigerator. Like, get right with your web edge. Don’t do that. Your Pantry. Yeah, that’s not perfect. I mean, I don’t know. That’s where like when you look at garlic cowbell, they’ll do little things where you hang up the kitchen. Like, frankly, if you could do the same thing I’ve heard people talk about in the past taking like nylons, and single looping, you know, and hanging that up and letting the audience do that. The reason that works is because of the airflow that they get, they’ll last forever if you could keep good airflow around them. And you can keep them below about 55 degrees 60 degrees. A lot of people that we have like my father in law, what he’s done, you don’t need the air flowing into the lower temperatures. He built a pantry with an intake and an exhaust. So when it’s cool at night, his pantry pulls air in from outside, right, because it’s cool. And the nights here cools everything down. And then when it gets above a certain temperature it shuts off. So he can essentially refrigerate as amphorae using just ambient outside air. And his onions will last for a year there. Wow. Yeah,
Grounded by the Farm 22:21
that’s creative. I don’t know anybody that has a pantry that cool. I mean
Shay Myers 22:27
that I don’t think I know anybody else that’s got a pantry that cycle either.
Grounded by the Farm 22:30
That’s pretty awesome. I mean, I was impressed with like heated floors and farm shops, but a pantry that kind of knows what they can be. Yeah, that’d be pretty awesome. Growing onions is becoming more of a thing, like more people are trying to grow things in their backyard. And I’ve had a few friends trying to grow onions. What would you suggest, if you’re trying to do something like that
Shay Myers 22:56
the most important thing is to get the right variety for the region that you’re in. And hopefully the seed guides are doing that for you. But it’s really, really critical if you try and plant the wrong seed. So if you took a seed that we plant here and have a lot of success with and you took it down and tried to plant in Texas, or somewhere in the southern half of the states, it wouldn’t work. It just straight would work, you wouldn’t get it. And if you did the opposite. I talked about that Texas 1015 suite. We brought that here and planned that like we think we should play on us, it wouldn’t work here. So regionality. And the correct seed right is probably the most important thing. The other thing about onions that’s important to consider is they are really, really finicky when it comes to water, mostly underwatering. But you can overwater them certainly too. But they if you stress and onion at the wrong point in time, you’ll get no yield, you’ll get no size, they won’t finish, you have to be pretty consistent. If you’re a zucchini farmer or a zucchini gardener, and you’re not super successful with your zucchini or your squash, I wouldn’t recommend you kind of need to be I’m not saying they’re super hard to grow. But they are way harder than a lot of things that are pretty Hardy. They’re just not forgiving of any mess ups if you like as an example, if we took one of our onion fields, and it’s July 15, and it’s hot outside, and we miss our watering by eight or 10 hours, we’ll lose 20 to 40% of our yield of our other potential because we’ve missed by eight to 12 hours. That’s all it takes. If you’re not able to really monitor what you’re doing, you’ll have you’ll struggle a lot more than it doesn’t mean you won’t have anything. So it’s not like it’s all or nothing. But it will have an impact if you can’t really pay attention to the way to
Grounded by the Farm 24:36
so I think I remember when the podcast you talking about your family does some drip irrigation. Is that the way you guys get water into your onion fields? Yeah,
Shay Myers 24:46
so we’re almost 100% drip irrigated. It depends on the year on the farm, the farms that were on. But yeah, we drip buried everything and that’s for that consistency and also allows us to move across the fields a lot more quickly. And also We’ll save much more.
Grounded by the Farm 25:01
And just so people understand, it’s kind of like having a soaker hose under the soil profile a little bit or something. Or, you know, you have places where the water comes out, but it’s under the soil so you don’t lose water. And it’s delivered right into the root zone, because you don’t think about it. When you’re watering plants, you’re really trying to get the water to the roots of a plant.
Shay Myers 25:23
And that way, we don’t wander the weeds either. It’s a nice way to do it. So you’re not watering the weeds every world.
Grounded by the Farm 25:29
Yeah, cool. Um, I think for me, the idea of looking at fields that are drip irrigated, they always look kind of wild on the ends with the tubes coming out. and stuff. It’s really kind of weird to look at. But it’s like the perfect way to get the water right. So do you guys have soul probes to know how dry the water profile is down deep? Or do you just kind of know based on temperature,
Shay Myers 25:55
you have an idea on the temperature and a lot of we’ll just check the fields and with the consistency of the soil, we can tell that there are and we have utilized both probes that are at varying depths because we don’t want to water past the root zone of the onions. So you put a probe it’s right below where the root zone of the onion should be in as soon as that gets wet. You’re like, okay, I was wet as I’m going to get, I can shut the water off. You also do the same thing on the surface. Because you can get too wet on the surface, you try and get that sweet spot in the middle. But we do that with shovels and digging and soil probes as much as having, you know, some sort of sensor, watermark sensor, which we do utilize, but you can’t really replace the show on a pro.
Grounded by the Farm 26:35
Yeah, it’s been a long time. But I remember seeing onion seed being grown for production. And to see an onion plant that’s producing the seed up at the top was kind of strange. I assume you plant everything from seed, though.
Shay Myers 26:49
Yes. And they’re all hybrid seeds. So we’re we won’t see it not being open pollinated, we sell them? Well, this year, we saw a lot of the variety. We do not plan, we plan all hybrid. And we try to avoid cedars. Like, if we end up with something that goes to sprout it means that there was some environmental condition or some growing practice on our end that caused a problem with the onion so that it didn’t perform like it should. But if they do produce seed or flower, it’s sterile, it’s not viable seed.
Grounded by the Farm 27:26
Yeah, yeah, the ones I’m talking about are farmers who are growing the seed for that reason, like in a seed production area. And it’s such a strange thing to see. Because we all know
Shay Myers 27:36
what those you can’t plant a seed to get seed, you actually have to take a bowl from the previous year, it’s gone through a winter or a cold cycle, to get it to wake up again. So you take a bolt from, in this case, you know, we’re talking in fall of 2020. So that that only needs to go through until next spring, and then you take that symbol that plants it and then that little flower, and you can get the seed from it.
Grounded by the Farm 28:04
So it needs that period of dormancy to come back to life to get the energy up to produce the seed. Interesting. I hadn’t thought about hybrid onions somewhere I had missed that. So what does the hybridisation to like what what does it offer us
Shay Myers 28:21
off? taker? Probably, I mean, it’s I’m sure it’s improved yields just more consistency, it’s really more about consistency that than it is anything else it’s really hard for I mean, farmers are always looking for consistency, at least in their seed. Because there’s so much other inconsistency and weather and water and pests, and temperature and everything else. So when you can remove those variables that it makes sense to remove that are in your control. And farmers always, always go in that direction. And I think humor, regular folks oftentimes wonder why it is that, that farmers tend to go in that direction, but they forget about all the things that we can’t control. So if you if you control, you know, we say that we’re only 20 to 30%. Like if we’re looking at a field and looking at the success of that field, our decisions only in our only 20 to 30% of the I’m trying to think of a way to put that in there of the influence, if you will, of what the final result is going to be the other 70% as mother nature, and how she treats us and what she gives us or doesn’t give us at the end of the day. So we want to control every percentage point of those variables that we can
Grounded by the Farm 29:35
and how consistent is the environment? They’re in Idaho? I heard you explaining that. It’s a pretty unique Valley or a pretty unique area in terms of production. What’s the weather like? Because people like us, we think of Idaho, you think of mountains and
Shay Myers 29:51
so the Treasure Valley is the second most biodiverse county in the United States and the number of crops that can grow in this region. So when we look at Our weather pattern. So right now September, I mean, we’re, I’m looking out the window at all the haze that’s out there right now. It’s crazy, crazy smoky. But typically, we’ll see temperatures this time of year in the 80s. And lows in the upper 40s. And our freeze, you know that we really worry about usually won’t come at least a crop damaging freeze, you might have something that would kill something that’s not very hardy. But for us, we really don’t worry about freezing anything until Halloween. So but right between between Halloween and the first part of November. Yeah, so and then in the springtime, we’re planting by late February to mid March. That means we’re already in the 50s and 60s in March. So we really have a lot of really nice days here. And we tend to have very little overcast or cloudy or rainy days, all of our moisture, we only get seven inches of rain a year Max, and all of that rain or that moisture comes in the form of snow, generally, between November in late January or February. Yeah, when we do get snow, we’re not in a place where the snow usually stays on the ground, it will snow. And two days later, three days later, it’s already melted off. And that’s kind of the environment that we’re in all of the mountains are right here. But it’s a pretty mild climate. Most people are pretty pleasantly surprised, unfortunately, more and more learning about how nice it is to be here. You have four seasons, but you don’t deal with, you know, more than a month or five or six weeks of real winter.
Grounded by the Farm 31:34
Yeah. And you don’t necessarily get the worst of summer, I hope, like 100 degree days, well, digits.
Shay Myers 31:42
but less than a dozen days a year probably. I mean, on rare occasions, we’ll get higher than that. But we’re usually eight to 10 days in the triple digits. Most of July will be in the 90s. That’s our hottest month, mid July to mid August. And we’ll be I mean, I’m shooting from the hip here. But certainly we’re in the mid 90s 92 to 98 degrees, I would guess from mid July to mid August,
Grounded by the Farm 32:06
still called down at night though you’ll call them at night.
Shay Myers 32:09
This is a really unique region and that we don’t hardly get any wins at any time other than a spring, which also has an impact on what crops we can grow and how successful and viable they are. In some ways good in some ways bad. Actually, there’s some crops that need the wind. Onions are not one of those depending on what irrigation methods.
Grounded by the Farm 32:26
I’ve seen onions in small fields, but we would be talking like hundreds of acres of your area would be planted onions.
Shay Myers 32:35
Yes. So in this valley, the Treasure Valley. There are about 28,000 acres of onions that’s a 30 mile wide by 70 mile long Valley. That’s a lot of plants you could drive around you would have a hard time if you were like having to go from an infield talking field in your in your view. You could pretty much crusher with the whole valley saying okay, there’s an infield. Okay, where’s the next one? Okay, it’s over there, right? Just hop skip and jump across the whole valley going from the infield, dog infield,
Grounded by the Farm 33:03
is there a smell to onion fields until harvest or no,
Shay Myers 33:07
there’s windows of time when there’s a little bit of smell. Certainly there’s right before harvest, if we’re doing an early harvest, it can be very bold, very, very. If and that means we’re going in with a green topper, we’re basically lawnmowing like using a lawn mower on the top. And those are green tops can be super powerful. But right now, if you were to go around you there being hints of onion and the smell now you got to realize these are people who have grown up around your entire life or people like me who were in bed all day long. So if you came from the city, you might say yeah, it’s really strong. What’s odd is an onion that is well cured, though, like in our onion storage is I can bring people in, you know, after we’ve cured the onions for a week, usually here between 45 and 60 days, they can’t even smell the onions in storage. I mean, they can they can literally be surrounded by millions and millions and millions of pounds going into that storage building. And not smelling. So it will depends on the condition that the
Grounded by the Farm 34:05
that’s, that’s amazing. Because, you know, to me, I’m thinking like wild onions, I I seem to smell them when they’re cut even in the yard or something, you know, like wild onions they have that
Shay Myers 34:18
they’re still green, if they’re still green, that you can smell them. But when Yeah, when they cure down and dried and they’re really nice, dry skin on, there’s almost no smell left. That’s their natural defense. That’s why we can store them for eight or nine months at a time. It’s because of those paper layers that get on there that well, you know, act as a barrier for both, you know, penetration for moisture and contaminants and also for the escape of you know, the internal edible components of the onion.
Grounded by the Farm 34:44
Yeah, do you guys grow like the green onions that are
Shay Myers 34:47
we don’t have the different varieties very labor intensive. We’ve talked about it before. It’d be a short window of production for us. Who knows I never we never say never right here we go all kinds of crazy stuff. So we’ll see
Grounded by the Farm 35:00
How do you harvest onions?
Shay Myers 35:02
Most onions, especially those in the United States are almost exclusively mechanically harvest harvested we’ll go through probably a good time to put a plug in there for like my YouTube channel or something you go to YT produce the company name a ye produce. Hopefully that spelled somewhere so people can find it but yeah,
Grounded by the Farm 35:18
it’ll be linked in the show notes. Yeah,
Shay Myers 35:21
if you go look there I have videos or find me shape bar kit on tik tok, or on Instagram, you’ll see stuff because it’s hard to describe there’s a lot of steps in the process will undercut the onions once they fall over. So what I mean when it’s right, but are ready for harvest will naturally fall over the top dies and falls over. And then we’ll come in with what some people will look. It’s called a rod wieder. It’s just a spinning bar that separates the roots from the soil. And that will finish basically drying and separates those roots so they will dry. It also makes it so our harvester when we can come in that doesn’t dig at all a lot of people talk to him say, well, you got to dig your onions. No, we don’t date our onions because they’re already sitting on the surface I’m it’s grow on top of the ground. So we just have off of the ground, and hope that there and have them properly cured and dried. And then they’ll go over the harvester through the sickle bar, which will cut those dry tops off. And then we’ll feed them into a 10 Wheeler truck. Generally, sometimes semis. But generally our fields are quite big enough to justify semis, it’s hard to maneuver those in our smaller fields. And then from there, they go to a bulk storage building or a bin storage, where they are put on. Somebody said this the other day is a great way to describe it basically, we have so again storage for us, our bookstores are about 7,000,007 8 million pounds for building the floor. The floor is like a giant air hockey floor like you got an air hockey table, you know, the air with the air coming up out that makes makes the little Puck float. That’s exactly what our onion storages are like on an industrial scale. So we pile those onions up, and the air comes up through that air hockey floor and passes through the onions. And I talked earlier about storing onions at your house about how important airflow is, well, that one of those fans will run 24 seven for the entire time that those things are in there. And in some cases, we’ll even have that air refrigerated, we try not to use refrigeration too much. But there’s times when we have you know, different spikes in temperature, whether that make us turn on the refrigeration. But for the most part, we can just use the cool night air we have here. The cool design. And so during the during the night, we pull in all the cold air. And during the day we shut the doors and just recirculate the air. And at night, open the doors again and purge all the humidity and the warm air out and start the process all over again.
Grounded by the Farm 37:43
I still have a house fan. So I can do that here at my house. Right? The idea is you open the windows pull in the cooler, close it down. But I don’t think very many of us do those things anymore.
Shay Myers 37:55
That’s where you’re living. Absolutely.
Grounded by the Farm 37:57
Yeah. So one of the questions I always ask people is your favorite way to eat the crap that you grow. So do you have like, any recipes your family makes with onions that you think or other people out.
Shay Myers 38:11
I don’t know, like a special family recipe. My, my wife is always yelling at me because I don’t have onions in the pantry of the house. She she managed to insult me she’ll go buy somebody else’s I get at the grocery store and make sure that I see the label. That’s her way to get even with me and I deserve it. You know, for me, and this is gonna sound really simplistic. My favorite way to have an onion is actually on a hamburger raw on a hamburger. And we do a lot of sauteed onions. Certainly, and you can put those in anything. And I always say when you take that recipe and you see it calls for one medium onion or half a medium just put the whole thing and you’re not gonna see any difference because like it’s always adding flavor. But as far as like coming up with some specific family super cool recipe.
Shay Myers 38:54
I wish I had, I don’t
Grounded by the Farm 38:57
Well, I’m gonna let you off the hook. Not everybody has to have one. I do have a friend, I may have to find it that she does something with like frozen onions, and cream cheese and bakes it and it’s really very yummy. In the process,
Shay Myers 39:13
I have to share it on my blog. So
Grounded by the Farm 39:15
maybe I have to find the recipe instead of you having homework. That’s awesome. You said your wife buys somebody else’s onion. So if people listening to the show wanted to buy Shea’s onions, how did they find them where you guys
Shay Myers 39:31
are on Ian’s are in every state, but retailers are really finicky. So knowing where you can find me is a little bit hard. We pack under primarily two labels. We pack for water farms. So if you see a lot of farms again, that’s ours, if you see an A ye produce I mean it’s obviously ours. In the Northwest in the western US we’re in Albertsons and winco and to some extent, grocery outlet and Walmart and the rest of the US because of the way that we are yeah because the way the distribution method works, we supply Probably most of Florida, Walmart that is all the Walmart’s in Florida, with our onions. But if you want to find our stuff in Texas or the Midwest, good luck. We’re there but mostly in the in the food service side of the business. Oh, yeah, you got you can find us in the northwest maybe Northern California and the south east. And otherwise, you’ll have a hard time it is probably.
Grounded by the Farm 40:27
But you guys work with a wide range of food service as well and cafeteria kind of settings and restaurants or
Shay Myers 40:35
so you find out we do a lot of contracts with different food service companies and providers. So if you go to Chevy’s or if you go to China think we’re going to be in trying to think of some national chains. I’d have to pull up my list to have that in front of me, but we do some Texas Roadhouse, we’ll do a lot of the Golden Corral. And that’s the nationwide Golden Corral. What other ones that I got on the list that people are going to recognize?
Grounded by the Farm 41:02
Well, there’s a champion, right? Like one block from me,
Shay Myers 41:05
there’s a good chance
Grounded by the Farm 41:06
that we’re supplying a lot of fajitas in my life or something. Right. All right, thanks so much, Shay. I really appreciate it.
Shay Myers 41:12
You bet. Thanks for having me.
Grounded by the Farm 41:16
I hope you guys enjoyed it. I’ve got a lot of links to go with this story with Shea from there’s a great podcast called Market to Market that he was on as well as another great podcast the future of Ag all of that stuff and more gonna be put up on Grounded by the Farm calm and in your show notes. So make sure you hit click, he can see the videos and photos and some of those things on Grounded by the Farm that don’t always make it through the show notes. And to finish out 2020 really strong talking about some of the holiday foods that we love so much. From this point on. We’re going to start doing holiday episodes. We have things like pumpkins coming and turkeys and all those things. Thanks so much. We will talk to you soon.
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