Students getting sweet lesson in civics, politics

The students from Kirkland Junior High who lobbied for a bill declaring the Walla Walla Sweet Onion the state vegetable deserve commendation for their civic and culinary zeal.

For three years, current and former students of teacher Toni Miller have written letters, testified in committee and all-around carried the onion torch. Last week, they saw the fruits of their labor: Rep. Maureen Walsh’s House Bill 1964 was passed by a 95-1 vote. “Sweet” is old slang by now, but it’s still the name of the finest onion known to humankind.

In these days of abundance and availability, very few foodstuffs are so closely associated with a specific geographic area. Which is why making the Walla Walla sweet the state vegetable is such genius. They are only available from mid-June through September, making them precious and summer delicious. Raw or grilled, they are the onion champs. Fans are known to eat onion sandwiches – simply bread, mayo and the sweets. Fanatics are known to just munch an onion like an apple.

So we should be celebrating this wonderful food as our state vegetable. There’s just one hitch – the bill needs to pass in the Senate. A similar bill that originated in the Senate was defeated last week due to opposition from … potato growers. This is why the students are getting such a good civics lesson. They were never trying to disrespect the potato, or any state-grown vegetable, just championing Washington’s unique Walla Walla sweets. Even though Idaho promotes and is known for its “Famous Potatoes,” the fact is Washington farmers grow more potatoes than Idaho does. However, “potatoes” say Idaho to most people, no matter how many spuds Washington happens to grow. Just as “apples” say Washington to most people, “sweet onions” are associated with Walla Walla, Washington.

The students at Kirkland Junior High simply want recognition for the state’s most distinct vegetable (which happen to be better than Maui sweet onions and Vidalia onions from Georgia combined).

Rep. Toby Nixon, R-Kirkland, beautifully peeled the onion this way:

“I’m happy this bill passed,” he said. “I know the kids learned a lot about economics, politics, and certainly the sometimes crooked path that a bill takes through the Legislature. They were patient and persistent over the three years that it took for this bill to pass the House. And now they’ll get to see how hard it is to pass a bill through the Senate!”

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