The Walla Walla sweet onion is Washington’s official state vegetable, and on June 21-22 the city will celebrate its famous product with its 30th annual Sweet Onion Festival.
Kathy Fry-Trommald, executive director of the Walla Walla Sweet Onion Marketing Committee, said the event attracts more than 5,000 attendees each year to the town of 31,000, which has been named the country’s friendliest small town by USA Today and Rand McNally.
“I have people call in from all the other states,” Fry-Trommald said. “We have people come from Canada each year. We’re a relatively small town. When people come here they realize what a cozy little community this is. It’s become well known.”
The seed that started the Walla Walla onion industry was imported from Italy more than 100 years ago. Fry-Trommald introduced a grape stomp to the festivities last year as a nod to the industry’s Italian roots. There are more than 100 wineries in the area.
“The Walla Walla sweet onion industry was started by the Italian community,” she said. “A lot of the producers in our industry are still Italians. I’m trying to bring back that connection. It was a lot of fun last year.”
New events this year include a road race — the Funion Runion 5K — and a baby photo contest. Other events include an onion-eating contest, cooking competitions (including contests that involve incorporating sweet onions in salsa, baked goods and side dishes), cooking demonstrations, live music, a dance and a car show.