Jan 15, 2013
Onion transplant farm celebrates a century

Dixondale Farms, which claims to be the largest and oldest grower of onion plants in the United States, is celebrating it 100th anniversary this year.

According to the farm’s website, it all started in 1913, when John Mabson McClendon bought some land in south Texas to start a cabbage and onion farm. He bought more land a few years later, in an area known as Dixondale. The McClendon family decided to keep the name, and call the business Dixondale Farms.
John died of a heart attack in 1921, leaving his son, Earl, in charge of the farm. Earl and his wife, Lula Bell, had a son, Earl Jr., and a daughter, Mary Louise. In the 1930s, Earl added ranching to the family business, and started hiring other growers to grow crops for Dixondale Farms. The onion plants and other crops were shipped by rail and mail to customers.

In the 1940s, Lula took charge of the company’s mail-order business, which exploded during the “Victory Garden” years of World War II. The farm saw an enormous boost in its customer base at that time, according to the website.

In 1942, Earl Jr. died from injuries he sustained when a horse fell on him, leaving the farm without a successor. Earl and Lula eventually offered the farm to their son-in-law, Wallace Martin, after he got out of the Army and graduated from the University of Texas in 1948. Earl remained active on the farm until he died in 1983, according to the website.

In the ’50s, the local railroad stopped running, which put an end to the farm’s mail-order business for the time being. The farm’s primary business became growing onion transplants for large onion farms. Earl started focusing more on the ranching operation at this time, leaving Wallace in charge of the vegetable operation. By the end of the decade, cabbage was being phased out and cantaloupes, cauliflower and carrots phased in, according to the website.

By the late 1960s, the farm was focused on its two most profitable crops: onion plants and cantaloupes. The onion transplants were grown in early spring and trucked to commercial onion farmers. The cantaloupes were grown in summer and mostly sold in bulk from the fields, according to the website.

In the 1980s, Wallace invited his son-in-law, Bruce Frasier, to take a leadership position at Dixondale Farms. Bruce, a graduate of West Point Academy who served in the Army, had no farming experience. By the end of the decade, however, he and his wife, Jeanie (youngest daughter of Wallace and Mary Louise), were in place as the fourth generation to lead the farm, according to the website.

1990 was a pivotal year. Dixondale Farms moved to a 2,200-acre plot about 13 miles outside Carrizo Springs, Texas, that year, where the farm is still located. Bruce saw that the time was ripe to start selling onion transplants directly to consumers again, just like the farm did in the 1940s. A mail-order catalog was sent to potential customers, and the farm began sending out small quantities of onion plants via UPS and the postal service, according to the website.

“If we could offer our onion transplants directly to home gardeners, we had the opportunity to sell our plants at retail prices, not wholesale prices,” Bruce said. “That could make the farming operations more profitable and give us the means for further expansion.”

It seems to have worked. More than two decades later, Dixondale Farms ships more than 900 million onion plants to farmers, home gardeners and garden centers around the country, according to its website.

By Matt Milkovich, Managing Editor

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