Arbini Farms

Arbini Farms

Arbini Farms has come full circle. What started a century ago as a small, so-called truck garden, and then grew into a wholesale supplier of the famed Walla Walla sweet onions, is back to selling its crop straight to the public. And Larry Arbini wouldn’t have it any other way. “We’ve opted to do it all ourselves,” he says. “And you know what? We do all right.”

The history of Arbini Farms is closely interlocked with that of the Walla Walla sweet onion, named after the valley in Eastern Washington, just north of the Oregon border. In the late 1800s, a French soldier, Pete Pieri, was stationed on the island of Corsica, according to the book, The Horticultural History of Walla Walla County, by Joe Locati. Though a French island, and the birthplace of Napoleon Bonaparte, Corsicans were largely of Italian heritage, and so were their vegetables. Pieri had learned that the Walla Walla Valley was an excellent place to farm, and upon his discharge from the military, he secured some Italian onion seed prevalent on Corsica and set out for the U.S. to make his fortune.

The seed Pieri planted west of Walla Walla did indeed flourish in the valley soils. He soon learned that if seeded in early September, the onion would not only winter over, but would produce a bulb of superior size, as much as 2 pounds. Not only that, but the eating quality was superior. Walla Walla sweets are mild because they have a high water content, reducing the relative amount of sulphur, which can make for a hot taste. Yet another advantage to the variety was that because it was seeded in the fall, it came in much earlier than the spring-seeded onions. It was a quality that Larry Arbini’s grandfather would maximize, and it was he who would be credited as the developer of the early Walla Walla sweet, according to Locati.

Italian Heritage

In 1890, Giovanni Arbini also set sail for the U.S. Leaving his native Italy, and, like Pieri, he settled in the Walla Walla Valley to farm. He was one of many Italian onion growers. But unlike his fellow growers, he was not satisfied with the seed brought over by Pieri. In 1923, Arbini noticed that some of the bulbs would mature more quickly than others. He would immediately remove these bulbs, which many of the other growers didn’t favor because they produced smaller plants. “But though the plants were smaller,” says his grandson, “the bulbs were just as large. They were an ideal globe shape, and there were no doubles.”

By 1925, the premium Walla Walla sweet — which matured in late June, hitting markets well before the other Italian sweets that were harvested in mid-July — was well-established. It would not get the Walla Walla sweet moniker until the 1960s, however. At the time, the variety was known as the “early Arbini strain,” according to Locati, which caused a certain amount of consternation among other growers because Arbini allegedly wouldn’t share any of his seed.
By the late 1920s, however, the early Arbini strain was being planted by growers around the valley. Giovanni Arbini then passed his onion-growing skills onto his sons Anthony, Frank, James, Reynold, Carl, and Joseph. Anthony’s son, Larry, started farming in 1966. “We had 12 acres of onions,” he says, “and we were considered a big grower.”

Back To The Future

Through the years, Larry gradually grew the business, reaching a peak of 60 acres in the early 1990s. The packingsheds were looking for volume, and Larry was intent on providing it. However, the packingsheds were making more and more demands as the years went by, says Arbini. It got so bad that the price they charged for packing a sack of onions more than doubled almost overnight, from $3 to $7. “And if there was a problem,” says Arbini, “they were your onions.”

Fed up, he and his son Andrew decided to essentially return to their roots. They’re back to farming just 6 acres of onions, as well as a few other specialty crops (See Cinderella Story). Much like the old truck garden days, they haul loads of onions into the cities, selling onions at farmers’ markets in the small cities in Washington and Oregon, such as Yakima, Pasco, and Pendleton. They also sell onions to restaurants in the area.

One big difference from the old days, however, is that Arbini Farms sells a lot of onions on the Internet. It sells directly to the public its their Web site, direct marketing onions in 10- to 40-pound gift boxes. The price averages about $2 per pound, but because the cost of shipping is included, the amount varies quite a bit depending on where the onions are shipped. Arbini says he ships a surprising amount of Walla Walla sweets, which earlier this year were named Washington’s official state vegetable, to the East Coast. “It’s a win-win situation,” says Arbini. “We get a good price, and they’re getting really quality stuff — we guarantee them 100%.”

Leave a Reply

One comment on “Arbini Farms

Featured Stories
Port Tampa Bay shipping channel
Citrus
May 24, 2016
Panama Canal Expansion To Bring Trade Opportunities To Florida
Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam says a confluence of events is putting the state's producers in a good spot to open new markets. Read More
anti-GMO corn spoof via social media
Citrus
May 24, 2016
Social Media Posts On GMOs Falling Flat [Opinion]
Hopefully, the hysteria the West has perpetuated on genetic engineering will not stifle the potential of moving our production forward enough to help feed a growing global population. Read More
Photo credit: USDA
Fruits
May 24, 2016
Organic Food Sales Hit Record $43.3 Billion In 2015
Organic Trade Association says organic fruits and vegetables logged sales of $14.4 billion. Read More
CA- Winegrape Vineyard
Grapes
May 24, 2016
Sea Change Coming To California Winegrape Landscape
Vines continue to be pulled from the state’s interior, while planting is expected to increase along coast and in Delta area. Read More
non-gmo label leafy greens
Citrus
May 24, 2016
Report Says GMOs Offer No Risk To Human Health
The study stresses the need for proper resistance management, the need for a different ways to evaluate all new crop varieties, regardless of process in which they were developed. Read More
Florida Ag Commissioner Adam Putnam checks out prepared school lunches. School meals are looking more colorful these days as fresh produce finds a place on the tray.
Citrus
May 24, 2016
Full-Time Effort Required To Feed Farm-To-School Programs
Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam gives a shout-out to those providing fuel to kids during the school year as well as the summer months. Read More
Photo credit: USDA
Citrus
May 23, 2016
World Health Organization Experts: Glyphosate Not Carcinogenic
Risk unlikely when consuming crops treated with herbicide. Read More
Food safety meeting for growers in Florida
Citrus
May 23, 2016
Florida Growers Putting Food Safety On Front Burner
Specialty crop industry stakeholders hungry to understand what’s ahead as FDA begins implementing new food safety rules. Read More
Example of cucurbit yellow stunting disorder virus
Cucurbits
May 21, 2016
Cucurbit Yellow Stunting Disorder Virus Cases Flaring In South Florida
Learn how to identify, the survival and spread, as well as management methods for this vegetable disease. Read More
nutcracker crunching down on a walnut
Nuts
May 20, 2016
Bank Predicts A Roller Coaster Ride For Tree Nut Industry
Supply expected to grow by more than one-third in next five years, but decreasing demand may lower prices. Read More
The Latest
Citrus
May 24, 2016
Panama Canal Expansion To Bring Trade Op…
Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam says a confluence of events is putting the state's producers in a good spot to open new markets. Read More
Citrus
May 24, 2016
Social Media Posts On GMOs Falling Flat …
Hopefully, the hysteria the West has perpetuated on genetic engineering will not stifle the potential of moving our production forward enough to help feed a growing global population. Read More
Fruits
May 24, 2016
Organic Food Sales Hit Record $43.3 Bill…
Organic Trade Association says organic fruits and vegetables logged sales of $14.4 billion. Read More
Grapes
May 24, 2016
Sea Change Coming To California Winegrap…
Vines continue to be pulled from the state’s interior, while planting is expected to increase along coast and in Delta area. Read More
Citrus
May 24, 2016
Report Says GMOs Offer No Risk To Human …
The study stresses the need for proper resistance management, the need for a different ways to evaluate all new crop varieties, regardless of process in which they were developed. Read More
Citrus
May 24, 2016
Full-Time Effort Required To Feed Farm-T…
Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam gives a shout-out to those providing fuel to kids during the school year as well as the summer months. Read More
Citrus
May 23, 2016
World Health Organization Experts: Glyph…
Risk unlikely when consuming crops treated with herbicide. Read More
Citrus
May 23, 2016
Florida Growers Putting Food Safety On F…
Specialty crop industry stakeholders hungry to understand what’s ahead as FDA begins implementing new food safety rules. Read More
Cucurbits
May 21, 2016
Cucurbit Yellow Stunting Disorder Virus …
Learn how to identify, the survival and spread, as well as management methods for this vegetable disease. Read More
Nuts
May 20, 2016
Bank Predicts A Roller Coaster Ride For …
Supply expected to grow by more than one-third in next five years, but decreasing demand may lower prices. Read More
Insect & Disease Update
May 20, 2016
Yara International Pledges $100,000 To S…
Scholarship will fund University of Florida undergraduate and graduate students. Read More
Citrus
May 20, 2016
Florida Farmland Becoming Big Deal For I…
Real estate values in the Sunshine State dictated by money looking for a home. Read More
Citrus
May 19, 2016
Bayer Makes Bid For Monsanto
Monsanto says proposal is being reviewed by board of directors as well as legal and financial advisors. Read More
GenNext Growers
May 19, 2016
Get To Know Rory Crowley Of The Almond L…
The assistant operations manager and director of business and research development for the Nicolaus Nut Company, Rory Crowley talks about how the Almond Leadership Program helped him prepare for the future. Read More
Disease Control
May 19, 2016
Native Plants Reduce Need For Vineyard W…
Scientists in eastern Washington are finding drought-tolerant alternatives to roses at the end of vineyard rows that not only save Read More
Grapes
May 18, 2016
Minnesota Has New Cold-Hardy, Lower-Acid…
The University of Minnesota has released a new cold-hardy grape that holds promise for winemakers wanting to make dryer wines Read More
Farm Management
May 17, 2016
Tour De Fresh Cycling Event Will Raise F…
The goal for 2016 is to place 50 additional salad bars in schools across the country. Read More
Citrus
May 17, 2016
$130 Million In Funds For Fruit And Vege…
USDA allocates funds for Extension, organic production, food safety, and technology grants. Read More
[gravityform id="62" title="false" description="false"]