In its third generation of growing and shipping produce from the Vidalia, Ga. region, the Stanley family has apparently sold its operations to entities owned by Microsoft founder Bill Gates.
The corporate paper trails in the Georgia and Washington secretaries of state databases include names of several holding and investment firms, but Vidalia onion insiders say it is common knowledge that the Stanley Farms operations, including Vidalia Valley, Manning Farms and Vidalia Onion Farms are no longer owned by the family headed by R.T. Stanley Jr.
“We are looking at this as a positive thing,” said Bob Stafford, manager of the Vidalia Onion Business Council. “Bill and Melinda Gates have a real interest in agriculture and farming with their different programs to help end hunger.
“It’s not like a big oil company coming in and buying up farms. They want to feed people. I think this will help stabilize the industry.”
None of the Stanley family was available for comment Oct. 17. They have about 4,000 acres, with about 1,000 of them in Vidalia onions, according to their company website.
The Stanley family sent a letter to vendors and suppliers Oct. 1 stating the Washington company named Stanley Produce Georgia had bought the family's operations, according to The Atlanta Business Chronicle.
Stafford said he had heard of the letter. He said the Stanley operation is the second South Georgia farm he knows of that has been bought by billionaire Gates.
“He bought Coggins Farms (Lake Park, Ga.) a couple of years ago,” Stafford said.
A December 2012 document in the Washington secretary of state’s database show Coggins Farms’ “governing person” as Michael Larson. It shows Larsen at the same Kirkland, Wash., address as Lakeland Holdings LLC, listed in the database as the “governing persons” for the new Stanley Produce Georgia entity.
Larson was not immediately available for comment Oct. 17.
The Washington secretary of state database shows Stanley Produce Georgia LLC filed incorporation papers Aug. 22. On Sept. 22, an entity named Stanley Farms Georgia LLC registered with the Georgia secretary of state as a “foreign” entity with an address in Kirkland, Wash.