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Just outside Medina EC’S Service area in Dimmit County sits the oldest and largest onion plant farm in the entire United States: Dixondale Farms. It’s an impressive feat for a small South Texas county many people from outside of Texas might mistake for a curse word.
You may not have heard of them, but if you grow onions in your garden or eat onions, there’s a chance they got their start at Dixondale. Their onion plants are shipped across the U.S., and in an average year, they will put 800 million onions in the mail. Onion plants go to backyard gardeners, farmers and garden centers.
Dixondale Farms got its start in 1913, when John Mabson McClendon relocated his family to the area from Central Texas. They purchased a small plot of land and began farming, growing onion transplants that they sent to farmers across the U.S. by train.
Earl McClendon, John’s son, had been farming since he was 15 and took over operations when his dad passed away. His wife, Lula, started the company’s early mail-order business in the 1940s, and the sale of onions was boosted by the push during World War II for victory gardens—small gardens at residences that could take some pressure off the public food supply. The mail-order business that supplied small growers continued until the mid-1950s, when the local railroad in Carrizo Springs stopped running, which took Dixondale back to its roots of solely growing transplants for large onion farms.
By the late 1960s, Dixondale had tried many crops and made the choice to focus on the two that proved to be the most profitable in their area: onion plants and cantaloupes. Wallace Martin, who was married to Mary Louise “Sissy” McClendon, daughter of Lula and Earl, was running the farm during these years.
Martin’s daughter, Jeanie, grew up on the farm. Her childhood is peppered with memories of hanging out at the onion sheds, where they prepared onions for shipping, jumping into the husks with her siblings and of shelling freshly picked black-eyed peas on her grandmother Lula’s front porch.
In the early 1980s, Martin asked Bruce Frasier, who had married Jeanie and served in the U.S. Army, to join the operation. Despite his lack of farm experience, Frasier began learning the business, plant by plant.
From its small beginnings in the early 1900s, Dixondale Farms has grown substantially. It now covers 2,200 acres and has become a go-to in the world of onions.
When UPS began servicing the Carrizo Springs area in 1990, Frasier saw an opportunity to re-enter the mail-order business. A single sheet of letter-sized paper, the first “mail order catalog” for Dixondale Farms, was sent to potential customers. Since then, the mail-order business has ballooned, and the catalog has evolved into a 20-page, glossy, full color production that customers look forward to getting in their mailboxes.
Dixondale doesn’t just sell onions. Their staff is knowledgeable on the best varieties for specific gardens and can even help diagnose pest and disease issues over the phone, so even an onion beginner has a good place to start. They also sell fertilizers and growing aids specifically formulated for onion growing. They are truly the onion experts.
They are also experts in their other crop: cantaloupes, which are marketed under Carrizo Cantaloupes and sold in grocery stores across the state in June and July.
Bruce and Jeanie continue to run the business today. In 2015, they hired Brian and Emily King to manage the farm, handle day-to-day operations of the farms and eventually carry on the business.
What began as a small farm more than 100 years ago now provides work for people throughout Dimmit County and plants for people throughout the U.S.