Megan Jacobsen Lauds Gills Onions' Sustainability Efforts
OXNARD, CA - Sustainability is no longer a buzzword in the fresh produce industry. Instead, it’s a crucial part of growers’ way of life and retail and foodservice operators’ way of business. For the industry, this ensures that there is a community of growers, buyers, and sellers of fresh produce for years to come. For Gills Onions, this encourages its team to constantly learn and evolve in ways that will preserve the earth and its health for many years down the road.
“Our commitment to sustainability is more than a decade old now. But one thing we’ve realized is if you think you are 100 percent sustainable, well, you’ve missed the whole point,” Megan Jacobsen, Vice President of Sales and Marketing, told me. “There needs to be a continual conversation about sustainable practices. For Gills Onions, our sustainability story starts before the seed even reaches the ground.”
Gills Onions has undergone a multitude of initiatives to ensure its operations as a whole are sustainable. This has included implementing regenerative agriculture practices—which Whole Foods Market predicted would trend in 2020.
“How growers treat the soil is very important. When we feed our bodies fresh fruit and vegetables, we’re less likely to get sick—and the same thing goes for the soil. When you’re feeding the soil the right nutrients at the right time, you grow a really strong plant, the likelihood of root growth accumulates, and you have more healthy plants that are robust and reliable,” Megan explained. “In addition, healthy soil helps water and land conservation programs. We’re aiming to grow more onions on less land, with robust root systems helping us use less water, as well.”
A highlight of Gills Onions sustainability program is Onion Power. The company's plant can process up to a million pounds of raw onions each day, creating an average of 150 tons of onion waste. In collaboration with innovators across the United States, including UC Davis, Gills Onions developed and launched the Advanced Energy Recovery System (AERS) in 2009, which converts onion waste into ultra-clean, virtually emissions-free electricity. The AERS provides the equivalent of enough power to supply 460 homes for an entire year. It also eliminates 14,500 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions each year.
“Each day at Gills Onions, we are learning more about sustainable ag practices and how we can protect the environment. By nurturing the land where our farmers grow our onions and conserving our resources, Gills is able to consistently produce onions of the highest quality without compromising valuable resources,” Megan added.
And, these days, you can’t have too long of a conversation about sustainability without solar popping up—another sustainable solution Gills Onions has incorporated into its operations.
As more growers follow in the footsteps of Gills Onions, AndNowUKnow will continue to report on the produce’s biggest sustainability pioneers.