Faye Westfall Catches Up With Visionary John Shuman

by | Mar 10, 2024


Headshot of Faye Westfall

No surprise, John Shuman Made Time To Chat…

Head to the center of the Vidalia Growing region in southeast Georgia and you’ll find the headquarters of family owned Shuman Farms, a leading grower and shipper of sweet onions. I finally caught up with John Shuman who is one busy guy, especially right now with the organized start date of Vidalia sweet onions right around the corner. But he was gracious enough to answer a few questions for me with some interesting facts!

John Shuman standing in a Vidalia onion field.

John Shuman, President and CEO, Shuman Farms

One of the most impressive things I admire about you and Shuman Farms is the fact that you are so adamant about your faith and your ‘Giving Back’ culture! Give me a brief update on this.

Giving back is one of the pillars that Shuman Farms was founded upon, and it is at the core of everything we do. Through the efforts of our team at Healthy Family Project, our Feeding America sweet onion bag promotions, and supporting breast cancer awareness in October, we have been able to provide much-needed funds and resources to those in need.

49 million people – that is 1 in 6 people in the U.S. – rely on food assistance every day. As farmers and food producers in America, it is our responsibility to not only shed light on this crisis, but to also do something about it. To date, we have donated more than 21.6 million meals to Feeding America, supporting initiatives that help get food to families and children facing hunger.

We are not only committed to financially supporting organizations helping those in need, but it is also important to us to be boots on the ground, assisting where we can. Shuman Farm team members regularly volunteer at local food banks in our backyard and with our retailer partners in their communities. These workdays speak to the heart of who we are, and we are humbled and thankful for those who serve with us.

Our Healthy Family Project program, founded 22 years ago, continues to raise funds for families in need across the U.S. By the end of 2024, we will have donated more than $8 million to various causes such as Children’s Miracle Network of Hospitals, Feeding America, and Our Military Kids.

John Shuman on stage presenting a check through the Healthy Family Project  and Produce For Kids

John Shuman on stage presenting a check through the Healthy Family Project and Produce For Kids.

Shuman Farms has been in the Vidalia sweet onion industry for decades. I know you have seen many changes in the industry, what do you feel have been the most beneficial?

New varieties have kept the Vidalia sweet onion at the forefront of the sweet onion category. Delivering value by enhancing the overall flavor profile, size consistency, and disease resistance of the onion. These advancements have not only increased the quality of Vidalia onions but empowered the industry to maintain its position of leadership in the sweet onion industry.

I first met John Shuman about 2 decades ago when John and a friend of mine Rick Estess came to visit me. At that time I was in charge of procurement for BJ’s Wholesale Clubs, and they wanted some business. Over the years I have gotten to know John through the Southeast Produce Council. I can tell you John has a passion for the Produce business, especially when it comes to Onions. John has lead his team and grew the Shuman families business literally from nothing to a vast state in suppling year round product. Congratulations John and the Shuman family on growing your business with such stellar integrity.

Mark Daniels

Southeast & Central U.S. Retail Director, Idaho Potato Commission

Having the title of ‘The Official Sweet Onion’ for both the University of Georgia and Georgia Southern University’s athletic programs has to be a tremendous honor for Shuman Farms. Can you tell me a little bit about that partnership?

Being named the Official Sweet Onion for both the University of Georgia and Georgia Southern University athletic programs is a tremendous honor for us. As a family-owned business with deep roots in Georgia, we are excited to support these two universities that contribute so much to the southeastern United States.

It is important for us to drive education to the next generation of shoppers about healthy eating while promoting sweet onions as an essential ingredient, especially on gameday.

We’ve been able to partner with several players over the years and each of them has shown that grit, determination, and hard work are key ingredients to reaching your goals. We admire those qualities as they are also attributes that are key to the work we do in the produce industry.

In the 7 years that I have done business with John Shuman and Shuman Farms, I have learned that John Shuman embodies a rare blend of business acumen and unwavering faith in God. His leadership is a testament to the power of conviction and integrity in the corporate world.

At Shuman Farms, John leads not only with strategies and plans but also by example, instilling values of honesty, compassion, and diligence into every aspect of the company’s operations. His faith and leading by example allow employees to strive for excellence and treat each other with respect and kindness. It’s this commitment to both business and faith-built values that sets John Shuman and Shuman Farms apart, making it a premier choice for those seeking not only quality sweet onions but also a company that has a heartfelt love for people in general.

Through John’s leadership, Shuman Farms has become more than just a business to MDI. It is truly a partnership that is valued because of these attributes that comes from the top down.

Thank you, John, for your servant heart!

Gary Baker

Senior Director of Fresh, Merchants Distributors, LLC

This year the OFFICIAL date for selling Vidalia sweet onions is April 17, 2024. Can you explain why there is an official period to sell Vidalia sweet onions?

The Vidalia start date has been in place for years now and has had a tremendous positive impact on the industry. With the industry coming together with an organized start date, first week demand has been outstanding and first to market quality has dramatically improved. And with good demand to start the season, markets stabilize. The Vidalia industry has most certainly strengthened the brand’s reputation for freshness and quality with the start date.

(L-R) Mark Shuman, John Shuman and Commissioner Gary Black of the Georgia Department of Agriculture on stage.

(L-R) Mark Shuman, John Shuman and Commissioner Gary Black of the Georgia Department of Agriculture

I know that it has always been very important for you to carry on farming traditions and work ethics that your Dad Mr. Buck instilled in you. The Mr. Buck’s Farm Fresh Brand conveys everything he stood for and carries on the Shuman legacy. Is there another generation joining?

We’re excited to announce my oldest son, Luke, has joined the business. He is a recent graduate from University of Georgia and has started working with us. My youngest son, Jake, is currently a junior at Georgia Southern University and I am looking forward to him joining Shuman Farms when he graduates. Both will be the 3rd generation in the business.

I first met John Shuman at an SEPC event in 2002 at Chateau Elan in Braselton, GA when the Council used to have a Valentine’s Dinner Dance. We hit it off from our first conversation and have been friends ever since! Our families became close as my wife Jennifer and I would drive our girls down to Reidsville, GA and attend the Vidalia Onion Festival every Spring.

Our “city” girls loved visiting South Georgia and spending time with John & Mark Shuman’s boys, riding mini bikes and 4-wheelers throughout John’s many acres of land. John was always so accommodating, inviting us down to spend many weekends with his family and that is what the produce business is about, we’re a big family. We care for one another whether we are doing business together or not.

I look up to John and what he has accomplished over the years at Shuman Farms. He was a great mentor to me as we rose up SEPC’s executive committee ranks and we eventually became members of the current SEPC Board of Governors. John is a forward thinker and analyzer and (I feel) thinks things out before he talks, which can be tough for many people to do! John is a strong Chirstian man and as our families and kids have become adults, we have all remained “friends in produce!”

Andrew Scott

Director of Marketing & Business Development, Nickey Gregory Company

Shuman and Scott families on ATVs.

Shuman and Scott families.

Shuman and Scott families on ATVs.

Shuman and Scott families.

You have been a major player with SEPC, you were president from 2010-2012. Now you have a seat on the Board of Governors. You have seen a lot of changes since 1999 what do you see in the future of the council? Where do you think SEPC will be in 10 years?

One of the things that is so important about the SEPC is it’s continued commitment to delivering value to its members and stakeholders year after year. I only see this growing in the future.

Additionally, the SEPC focuses on staying true to its culture and founding principles, strengthening its mission every year.

(L-R) Andrew Scott, John Shuman, Commissioner Black, Terry Vorhees, Mark Daniels at ribbon cutting to start event.

(L-R) Andrew Scott, John Shuman, Commissioner Black, Terry Vorhees, Mark Daniels

John Shuman and Brandon Parker at Southern Exposure.

(L) John Shuman and Brandon Parker

Beyond the hours that John puts into Shuman Farms the things most important to him are his Faith and family. He is very dedicated to both. John once said that he has been fortunate to have had the support of his wife, Lana, as well as the advice and counsel from some of the most respected Vidalia onion growers in the state. He never fails to give special thanks to his brother, Mark Shuman for his dedication and leadership.

The produce industry is very fortunate to have a leader involved so passionately in all these qualities as John Shuman.  Faye Westfall