The Walla Walla Gardeners Association of Washington has closed its doors, filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection.
“Economically we didn’t have enough grower base and units running through the shed to keep it open,” said Paul Castoldi, a Walla Walla grower and president for the association/cooperative’s five-member board.
Grower attrition due to retirement and the downfall of the Walla Walla asparagus deal took away the producer base for the 96-year old operation, he said. Castoldi on Dec. 13 could not give an exact figure for the company’s liabilities but said it is well over $1 million.
“It is in the hands of the bankruptcy court and the trustee now,” he said.
Sweet onion acreage from about nine growers for the Walla Walla Gardeners Association was down to about 90 acres, he said, with storage onions at about 300 acres. Castoldi said in years past there were as many as 40 growers in the association and sweet onion acreage would average about 200 acres per year, with about 300 acres of storage onions.
He said the company tried to source onions from other regions to keep enough running through packing lines to cover overhead but was the company was “spinning its wheels” and elected to close in late November.
Before it closed, the company employed 15 full time employees and as many as 60 to 70 seasonal employees, he said.
Castoldi said about three major sweet onion packing sheds remain in the region, with smaller family packing operations also existing.
Kathryn Fry, manager of the Walla Wall Sweet Onion Marketing Committee, said the region has about 1,000 acres of sweet onions and about 13 handlers. Acreage is down from about 1,400 acres in 2000, she said.