The Undeniable Connection Between Soil and Your Health

If there is one thing that the past year has taught us, it is that our health is precious. At Gills Onions, we are dedicated to promoting healthy living. We do that by employing sustainable business processes for a healthy planet, growing vegetables that promote physical health, and using responsible agricultural practices for healthy soil. 

Why do we put so much time and effort into caring for dirt? Because soil health and human health are connected.

How Soil Affects Your Health

Soil can affect our health in many ways. Some are good, and some are bad. Some are clear and direct, while others aren’t as obvious. 

Let’s look at the good first. Soil is the source of elements that are essential for human health. According to the European Journal of Soil Science, “Hydrogen, oxygen, carbon, nitrogen, sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium, phosphorous, sulphur, and chlorine make up 99.9% of the atoms in the human body, with all but hydrogen, oxygen, and carbon having soil as their major source.” Does that mean you should go out and eat a handful of dirt? Absolutely not. The nutrients from the dirt are transferred to the plants and animals that are responsible for our diets every day. 

But what happens if the soil isn’t healthy? Some soil, either naturally or through human intervention, can contain imbalanced or even toxic levels of elements or chemical compounds that follow those same pathways of transfer into our diet and into our bodies — all without us even realizing it. 

Microbes: Small but Strong

The soil microbiome is the world’s most hopping community that you’ve never heard about. The topmost layer of the soil where plants put down their roots is humming with interactions between microscopic organisms like viruses, bacteria, fungi, protozoa, and algae. This underground exchange is responsible for healthy plants — which are responsible for healthy animals and humans — by, as Agriculture.com describes, “promoting germination, stimulating roots, accelerating growth, and bolstering resistance to disease.” It’s good stuff. 

Soil microbes have a huge impact on the nutritional health of our food, but our diet and the dirt that we come in contact with every day can also affect our own microbiome. That’s right. Human beings host a thriving community of microbes, too. The Atlantic reports that, “The normal microbial make-up of a healthy human, a collection of bacteria, fungi, one-celled archaea, and viruses … weighs about three pounds — the same as our brain.”

We need microbes for healthy food and healthy bodies, but unfortunately, our society has unknowingly destroyed many of the vital microbes in our soil by overusing chemical fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides, and herbicides and by over-tilling. Fortunately, advances in technology allow us to repair the damage through conscious and regenerative farming practices that repair damaged soil and restore healthy microbial communities. 

Caring for You Through Our Soil 

We grow our onions “The Gill Way,” a process that ensures we maintain soil health and promote sustainable agriculture. We know that everything that happens to our soil, happens to our onions — and that means it happens to every person who eats our onions, too. 

We use soil science to understand the composition and microbiology of the soil and how it will interact with plant biology. Our onions and our fields work together to make each other stronger and healthier. Growers boost soil health with a balanced blend of macro- and micronutrients that work together with carbon and organic materials to create an environment that makes microbes happy and aid in water absorption.

Healthy soil helps our onions grow larger, more aggressive root mass. Better roots mean the plants are more productive and better able to fight against harsh weather, insects, and disease. So, our growers can use fewer chemicals. 

You may look out your window and just see dirt, but we see a vital resource. Only 30% of our planet is land, and of that land, only 11% is used in crop production. By caring for our soil, we know we are caring for you, our customers, and that’s just how it should be. 

Ready to try onions grown “The Gill Way”? Contact our sales department to learn more. 

Fighting Food Deserts with Value-Added Produce

The world population is projected to reach 10 billion by 2050. That’s a lot of hungry people to feed. And today, we aren’t succeeding. An estimated 815 million people around the globe are suffering from hunger. In order to feed the world’s growing population, agricultural production will need to increase by 60% over the next 30 years. 

But having food available isn’t enough. We need to be able to get that fresh produce to the people who need it. Currently, about 23.5 million Americans live in food deserts — locations where access to affordable, healthy food is difficult because grocery stores are too far away. Nearly half of those people are also low-income, and scarcity of product drives up the price. 

How do we end food deserts and feed our nation? Value-added products are an essential part of the strategy.

What Is a Food Desert?

Food deserts can sound like an unbelievable thing. How is it possible that in a modern world with so many items at our fingertips, families don’t have access to fresh, healthy foods? It’s a more common problem than you think. For example, 2.3 million people in the US live in rural areas that are more than 10 miles from a grocery store

Urban areas aren’t exempt, either. Grocery chains typically don’t build stores in poor neighborhoods, and lower income households are less likely to own cars. Lack of transportation makes shopping more than a few blocks away nearly impossible, so families make do with what’s easily accessed — corner stores that sell processed items and fast food restaurants.

Without easy access to fresh foods, people are more likely to make unhealthy choices and eat an unbalanced diet. This leads to health problems like obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. In Chicago, the death rate from diabetes in a food desert is twice as high as areas with easy access to larger stores with affordable produce.

Value-Added Produce Can Make Real Change

Value-added products are just that — products that add value beyond traditional options. In the world of fresh produce, value-added products are designed to save consumers time, make foods more readily available, and be attractive to retailers with easy store packaging. 

For example, a gas station or corner store may not have the facilities or floor space to stock and sell individual or bulk apples, but pre-sliced apples in individual bags and containers can be a more efficient option. The apples haven’t lost any of their nutritional value by being pre-sliced and packaged, but they are easier for the retailer to sell and easier for buyers to consume. Busy people don’t have to stop to slice and prep their apples. Instead, they grab and go. 

Gills Onions: Experts at Value-Added

At Gills Onions, we are proud to contribute these value-added products to the marketplace:

  • Diced Yellow Onions
  • Diced Red Onions
  • Diced Celery and Onions
  • Diced Mirepoix (a mix of onions, carrots, and celery)
  • Diced Pickled Onions

We pack our retail products in 8 to 10  oz., BPA-free, recyclable clear cups with reusable lids. Our packaging locks in freshness and is easy for retailers to store and display. It’s also easy for buyers to transport to their homes. 

When you’re ready to prepare your meal, there’s no need to wash and chop vegetables. Instead, fresh, healthy food is at your fingertips. We currently serve retail grocers throughout the state of California. As we extend our reach nationwide, we hope to share our best-in-the-industry produce with more and more people, working to eliminate food deserts and bring fresh vegetables to every table.

Ready to try onions the Gills Way? For more information, contact our sales department. 

Lessons Learned from 2020 and Industry Predictions for 2021

When it comes to the year 2020, where do we begin? So much has happened, and so much has changed. An unprecedented world pandemic turned the entire foodservice industry on its head, but it also taught us some valuable lessons. Unexpected trends and adaptations fueled innovations that will carry through into 2021 and beyond. 

So, while we wouldn’t jump at the chance to repeat 2020 anytime soon, we are grateful to be standing strong on the other side, and we’re optimistic for the future. Here’s what we’ve seen over the past year in the food industry and what we expect to see through the rest of 2021.

Discovering the Chef Within

With quarantine measures in place, the average Joes and Janes of the world became acquainted with their kitchens. For too many people, cooking is a lost art — or a skill they never took the time to find in the first place. Being stuck at home opened up an opportunity to explore the amazing world of food by trying new recipes and new foods. Baking bread, pickling, preserving, and canning foods are more popular than they have been in decades.

Luckily for those of us at Gills Onions, the tried and true produce of the world wasn’t forgotten. After all, an onion is a healthy, flavorful, and versatile ingredient. Every time someone purchased produce to cook their next meal, they supported farmers and producers across our nation. Thanks for cooking!

Prioritizing Health and Sustainability 

With or without a pandemic, you always need to eat more veggies. That’s a sentiment that both foodservice and individual consumers took to heart over the last year. Plant-based diets continue to be on the rise with a focus on health boosting trends like CBD products, herbal pharmaceuticals, kombucha drinks, and, of course, plant-based proteins. 

We also saw greater concern for sustainability and a focus on the environment. As a society, we were able to take a step back and really think about how our personal choices affect those around us, our planet included. 

Sustainability is at the heart of everything we do at Gills Onions, so we are excited for the opportunity to share our mission with even more audiences. In 2021, we anticipate a trend toward more interest in where food comes from and how it is grown. By encouraging widespread use of conscious farming practices, we can all work together for a healthier planet while improving our personal health as well. 

The Evolution of Delivery 

When rising numbers of COVID-19 cases forced foodservice closures and put indoor dining on notice across the world, restaurants and grocery stores had to adapt. The shift from indoor dining to delivery, takeout, drive-thru services, and ghost kitchens allowed our industry to rise from the ashes. Even though many retail food establishments continue to struggle, delivery options have become a viable way to keep doors open. 

Before the pandemic, grocery store pick up and delivery was a trend many expected to take off. We never could have predicted how quickly these services would become essential for many Americans. 

At Gills Onions, we’ve had to adapt to the changing landscape, too. We’re committed to helping our customers as they reopen and providing them with the same great service — and great onions — as we always have. Whether you’re back to indoor dining, keeping it outdoors, or still relying on takeout and delivery, we’ll be there to save you time and money with high quality, value-added produce.

Lingering Lockdown Habits

As we look to the future, we hope that many of the good habits and attitudes developed during lockdown will carry on. Knowing where your food comes from and being conscious about what you eat is so important for physical health and for our environment. While 2020 was a difficult year, it also took us back to our roots and reminded us why food is so wonderful to begin with. 

Here’s to a new normal in 2021!

Ready to try onions grown “The Gill Way”? Contact our sales department to learn more.

Are You Ready to Air Fry?

The COVID-19 pandemic created more time spent at home and more time spent in the kitchen. As many families grew tired of their go-to recipes, they began to expand their horizons to new foods and new methods of preparation. The star of the show? Air frying. 

“How to air fry …” was a top Google search in 2020 and continues to be high on the charts into 2021. The term has over 1 million hashtags, and social media can’t get enough of fryer hacks and fryer friendly foods. Air frying is even a clever — and tasty — way to prepare vegetables (like onions!). If you haven’t joined the air frying revolution, here’s what you need to know.

The mechanics of air frying

The first thing you need to know about air fryers is that they don’t actually fry things. Unlike deep fryers that cook food in hot oil, an air fryer cooks food with very hot air. Once you place your food in the frying basket, the machine blows hot air to create a convection cooking effect that browns the food. The crunchy texture is similar to what you would achieve by deep frying.

Cutting the oil out of the process makes it a slightly healthier —and much easier — way to prepare food. 

What can you air fry?

Unlike a deep fryer, you can’t cook foods that you have dipped in a thick liquid batter in an air fryer. Remember, it’s a great way to cook but isn’t really frying. Breaded and dry-seasoned items turn out best after an air frying treatment. Air fryers are also great for reheating previously fried foods. No more soggy microwave-reheated pizza, fries, or chicken tenders. 

Now, let’s talk about vegetables. You can fry virtually any vegetable in an air fryer. Air fried vegetables are warm, crispy, and delicious. Experimenting with spices and seasonings can make eating vegetables fun again. And you know what veggie cooks especially well? Onions!

Onions are a versatile vegetable. In an air fryer, they can be french fried, sautéed, or turned into onion rings. Don’t forget one of the world’s favorite and most beautiful fried onion dishes: the blooming onion

Are you ready to air fry?

So, should you be the next one in line to buy an air fryer? That’s up to you. If you’re interested in experimenting with new ways to prepare your foods, a healthier alternative to traditional deep frying, or just a convenient way to cook your vegetables, an air fryer may be the perfect choice for you. 

Will it air fry? There’s one way to find out. (And remember, with onions, the answer is yes!)

Ready to try onions the Gills Way? For more information, contact our sales department. 

Farmers: The Pandemic’s Unsung Heroes

The COVID-19 pandemic has rocked world economies and impacted every aspect of our lives. The agriculture industry is no exception. And yet, despite unprecedented challenges, we did not — and could not — stop farming. 

At Gills Onions, we recognize and celebrate the sacrifices and contributions of our farmers and our employees. The farmers cultivating onions in the fields, the production team in our processing plants, the truck drivers that transport products, the accountants that make sure the paychecks arrive on time — these too often unsung heroes represent a segment of essential workers that make sure Americans have food to put on the table. 

Why Agriculture Is Essential 

Agriculture is one of the most essential industries in the world. Without it, humans couldn’t survive. And still, we often forget how important agriculture is and how massive an impact the farmers and workers in the agriculture industry have on our daily lives. 

It starts, of course, with the food we eat. Everything you purchase from the grocery store — fruits, vegetables, meat, tofu, spices — is readily available because a farmer gets up every day and does their job. You can take a short drive or walk to the store and get everything you need to make dinner tonight because a trucker transported those foods across thousands of miles to you. It’s so easy to get good food that it’s easy to forget the hard work behind it. 

But agriculture extends far past the foods you eat. Many of the clothes you wear, the carpets and rugs you walk on, the blankets on your bed, and even the bandages you use when you are injured originate with ag.

Agriculture is an essential part of the world economy. About 70% of people rely directly on some form of agriculture for their livelihood, and agriculture is the main source of income for many developing countries. Major exports like spices, sugar, rice, and coffee fuel international trade. 

Long story short, agriculture is about as essential as it gets. 

How COVID-19 Has Affected Ag 

The COVID-19 pandemic created new challenges for farmers all over the world and added to a series of already difficult years. Natural disasters and historically poor planting conditions put farm workers in a tight spot as they started down a global crisis unlike any we have seen this generation. 

With shut downs and closures in the commercial food sector and disruption in distribution and production, the balance of supply and demand became a rollercoaster ride. Some regions experienced short-term, localized shortages while others were left with excess supply and waste.

But farmers kept farming. Ag workers kept working. And everyone benefited from their sacrifices. With coronavirus still looming large, no one can predict what adaptations will be necessary in the months to come, but we know our industry will do what it takes to weather the storm. 

Thank You, Agriculture Heroes

At Gills Onions, our employees are the heart of our company. That’s why the health and safety of our employees is our top priority, now more than ever before. 

We are doing everything we can to take care of our employees so that we can continue to provide the best value-add onion products in the nation. We’re providing our workforce with personal protective equipment (PPE) and essential supplies while increasing social distancing. Every employee is entitled to get treatment and testing for COVID-19 without any risk of losing employment, and we provide up to 80 hours of compensation for COVID-related absences. 

What can you do to help? Start by supporting local ag. Consider joining a community farm co-op, visiting the farmer’s market, and shopping local whenever possible. Get take-out from the restaurants in your neighborhood. When you see an ag worker, say thank you. 

And, the next time you eat an onion, think of all of us here at Gills Onions. We’ll be thinking of you. 

Ready to try onions the Gills Way? For more information, contact our sales department. 

The Foodservice Recovery: How Value-Added Can Make a Difference

Innovation has always been essential for success in the foodservice industry. The COVID-19 pandemic has proved that principle once again. In unprecedented ways, the foodservice community has had to adapt to survive. In 2021, the industry is starting to recover, and innovation will be needed once again. 

At Gills Onions, we support our customers by offering value-added products that save them time and money. If you haven’t incorporated value-added produce into your line-up, now is the time. It’s an out-of-the-box — or in our case, out-of-the-bag — solution that can buoy up your business. And, our vegetables taste pretty amazing, too. 

The Challenges Facing Foodservice Recovery

As restaurants begin to reopen for indoor dining, it’s quickly becoming obvious that this isn’t a return to “normal.” Nothing is truly like what it was before quarantines and shutdowns. Take sanitation for example. Kitchens have always had high standards for cleanliness, but protecting food from germs and contamination has never been more important. 

Another new challenge is labor. The foodservice industry is starving, with retailers trying everything they can to attract interested prospective hires. One manager even recently offered to pay individuals $50 for simply coming in for a job interview. No one responded. Many businesses can’t offer pay that is competitive enough to beat out the combination of federal stimulus benefits and regular unemployment checks. And, with minimum wage and other employee cost increases, labor is becoming even more costly. 

Value-Added Products Can Solve These Challenges

Though the landscape can feel bleak, value-added products are a solution that you may not have considered. In a world where nothing has been consistent, these products can be the consistent force that helps stabilize a business. Here’s how:

  • Price. The cost of value-added products doesn’t change based on season or demand. Consistent pricing allows owners and chefs to plan budgets far in advance. 
  • Quality. At Gills Onions, we guarantee that our products offer consistent quality and yield. You always know exactly what you are going to get. One third of a sack of bulk onions is waste. That means you’re not really getting 50 pounds of usable onions. With value-added products, you know exactly how much usable product you’ll be receiving every time. 
  • Cleanliness. Bulk onions can bring harmful bacteria into your kitchen. Value-added products arrive cleaned, prepped, and ready to use. 
  • Labor. Speaking of arriving ready-to-use, value-added products save time and money by eliminating the labor needed to prep onions for use. Employees can dedicate their time to other essential tasks. 
  • Safety. Value-added products keep employees safe by reducing the risk of knife injuries. 

Use Gills Onions as a Resource

Our decades supporting the foodservice industry put us in a unique position to offer support and assistance at this unique time. We know your pain points, and we want to help you reach your full potential. We hope to be a resource to sales teams as they go out and sell produce, and a resource for producing the amazing value-added products that serve owners and chefs across the United States and Canada. 

Together, we can recover, and we will get back to what we all do best — bringing amazing food to the world. 

Ready to try onions grown “The Gill Way”? Contact our sales department to learn more.

Cloud Kitchens: An Innovative Take on Foodservice

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, 17% of US restaurants have closed their doors. In straight numbers, that translates to over 110,000 dining rooms that used to be filled with hungry customers. Since our onions used to be on the plates that now sit empty, we intimately understand the challenges restaurants are facing. 

With the industry in free fall, restaurant owners and chefs have been forced to adapt to survive. For some, cloud kitchens have been the answer. Let’s take a deeper look.

What Is a Cloud Kitchen?

Cloud kitchens, or ghost kitchens as some prefer to call them, allow restaurants and food brands to prepare meals for delivery and take out without a permanent brick and mortar space. These stripped-down versions of commercial kitchens are straight food preparation space — no dine-in option. But, they have everything needed to craft beautiful dishes with commercial kitchen equipment, dishwashers, and cold storage. Caterers have used these spaces for years to prepare meals for offsite events. 

Before the pandemic, about 15% of operators reported using a cloud kitchen, but by May of 2020, 51% of operators had turned to cloud kitchens to prepare some or all of their delivery orders. Other operators moved solely to cloud kitchens paired with take-out and delivery services to meet growing demands amidst lockdowns and quarantines. 

Food delivery apps have made delivery accessible and easy for everyone, with delivery sales growing 300% faster than dine-in over the last five years. That growth has only accelerated since COVID-19 arrived. 

The Cloud Kitchen Business Model

So, how exactly does a cloud kitchen work? Operators rent kitchen space from a landlord who owns kitchen facilities. These spaces are most common in densely populated urban areas. With kitchen space rented (for cheaper than the overhead of a restaurant space), brands get onto a food delivery app and start filling orders. The orders are picked up and sent out from the cloud kitchen space instead of a restaurant. 

Cloud kitchens have been used to launch new food brands for less. By having purely virtual interactions with customers, operators save on the cost of equipment, the cost of space, and the cost of labor. Existing brands have also used cloud kitchens to meet demand or expand their delivery range. 

But it’s not all easy money and success with cloud kitchens. Competition in delivery apps is growing. The perks of a storefront are free advertising and food traffic, sales boosts you don’t get when your restaurant is virtual. Chefs are also restricted by delivery area. A typical delivery radius is 3 to 5 miles from the kitchen, so you may be able to find kitchen space for cheap, but are there customers around? And let’s not forget that there is only so much kitchen space up for grabs.

Still, many brands have found cloud kitchens are the key to their success in a post-COVID market. 

Effects of Cloud Kitchens on the Ag Industry 

What challenges restaurants challenges the farmers who supply them. If there’s no one to eat food, the food doesn’t leave the field. At Gills Onions, many of our products are designed specifically with the food industry in mind. Items like our Whole Peeled Onions, Sliced Onions, and Slivered Onions are prepared and packaged to make chefs’ work easier and safer. When restaurants close their doors, agriculture hurts, too. 

Cloud kitchens are one innovative solution that the restaurant industry is using to bounce back, and they benefit those of us in agriculture just as much as those in food service. Cloud kitchens also present a unique opportunity for brands to partner with local farmers and source fresh produce from their own areas. 

Time will tell how the cloud kitchen concept develops and grows, but one thing is for sure: restaurants are here to stay, and we’ll be there to make sure they have all the onions they need. 

Ready to try onions the Gills Way? For more information, contact our sales department. 

What is Keto, and Is It Right for You?

Here at Gills Onions, we know the importance of maintaining a healthy, balanced lifestyle. For us, onions are a superfood and make a great addition to any diet plan.

One diet that has been growing in popularity over the past few years is the ketogenic diet. While several food groups are restricted or off-limits with this diet plan, onions are definitely on the table. Let’s take a quick look at the ketogenic lifestyle, what it entails, and its various pros and cons. 

BEFORE MAKING CHANGES TO YOUR DIET, PLEASE CONSULT A DOCTOR AND/OR A REGISTERED DIETICIAN

Origin: What is Keto?

The ketogenic diet first originated in the early 20th century as a way to help children suffering from epilepsy. Today, the ketogenic diet, Keto for short, has exploded as one of the most popular ways to lose weight. Practicing Keto involves limiting carbs to five percent of your caloric intake and increasing fat to seventy-five percent and protein to twenty percent. This combination, when followed for an extended period of time, triggers ketosis in the body. 

Benefits

By entering a state of ketosis, your body will begin to burn fat, rather than carbohydrates, which can lead to weight loss. People who follow Keto report feeling less hungry in comparison to other restrictive diets, because fat typically takes longer to break down.

Drawbacks

Keto is not a “quick fix” diet by any means. In order to see sustained weight loss, it can take weeks for your body to actually enter ketosis. People following this plan must then continue to adhere to the strict 75/20/5 ratios of fat, protein, and carbs. By limiting so many foods, participants often experience burnout after a while. 

Following this diet for long periods of time can also result in a variety of health issues including nutrient deficiencies, constipation, kidney problems, and the development of eating disorders. 

Should You Consider Keto?

The ketogenic lifestyle is not for everyone. Some people have success losing weight with this diet long term, while others report gaining any lost weight back after stopping Keto. You should consult your doctor before trying Keto, especially if you have any underlying health issues or pre-existing conditions. 

Is It Sustainable?

For most, Keto is not a sustainable diet long-term. However, the practice of monitoring your carbohydrate intake can be a helpful tool in regulating glucose levels over time. 

Tips for Dining At a Restaurant or While Travelling 

If you decide to try Keto, sticking to a restrictive diet can be tricky when you’re at a restaurant or on the go. Some common tricks and tips include:

  • Customize your side dishes at a restaurant to include only low-carb vegetables like onions, mushrooms, and broccoli
  • Request a cheese and nut platter when on airplanes to curb your hunger
  • Substitute dessert for unsweetened coffee or tea with heavy cream
  • Bring a variety of your favorite nuts to snack on during road trips or hotel stays

What Area of the Grocery Store to Shop In

Stick to the external aisles in the grocery store when following a Keto diet. You’ll notice you can find almost everything you need in fresh produce, meats, and dairy products, but be sure to take a special trip down the nuts/seeds and oils aisles.

Common Food Alternatives

  • Cauliflower rice and pizza crust 
  • Zucchini noodles
  • Sugar-free tomato sauce
  • Bell pepper halves or avocado halves as sandwich “buns”

Recipes

Baked Buffalo Cauliflower Bites

  • Beat 1 to 2 eggs
  • Blend almonds and spices in a food processor to create a “flour” 
  • Cover cauliflower pieces with egg and “flour” and bake at 400 degrees for 25 minutes
  • Mix baked cauliflower with prepared buffalo sauce until coated
  • Enjoy with blue cheese or ranch dressing, and a side of sliced carrots and celery

Chocolate Peanut Butter Bombs

  • Combine a block of cream cheese, 1½ cups unsweetened peanut butter, 1 cup coconut flour, ¼ cup Keto brown sugar substitute, and a dash of vanilla extract and salt in a bowl
  • Form the mixture into balls and freeze for one hour
  • Melt Keto-friendly dark chocolate with coconut oil, drizzle over formed balls, then freeze for another 10 minutes
  • Devour!

If you decide to try out the ketogenic diet, be sure to include plenty of Gills Onions in your meals. Onions are packed with nutrients, are low carb, and add delicious flavor.

Ready to try onions the Gills Way? For more information, contact our sales department

Chinese New Year: A Time to Celebrate Agriculture

The start of a new year is a time celebrated by countries and communities around the world as a time of renewal and reflection, but did you know that the new year also has many ties to agriculture? The Lunar New Year, often referred to as “Chinese New Year,” is the perfect example. (And onions even have a part in the celebration!)

The History of the Lunar New Year

In China, the Lunar New Year is one of the most important holidays of the year. China’s agrarian culture has thrived through the centuries, and the start of a new year was a time for farmers to rest from their work and celebrate.

The New Year marked the end of winter and the beginning of spring, the time that Chinese farmers considered the start of a new calendar cycle. They cleaned their fields and homes and prepared to plant new seeds. Friends and family traveled to be together and celebrate the start of a new year of prosperity and growth, both metaphorical and physical as new crops were planted. 

Lunar New Year celebrations begin on the new moon that occurs between the end of January and the end of February and last 15 days. On the seventh day of celebration, farmers traditionally displayed their produce. Historically, the new moon was a marker for when farmers should begin to plant crops. Plant too early and crops may fall victim to a late frost. Plant too soon and crops could miss out on essential spring rains. Hence, the “Lunar” New Year. While western calendars are based on the Earth’s orbit around the sun, the Chinese New Year is based on the moon’s orbit around the Earth.

The Year of the … What?

Another tie to agriculture is the Chinese zodiac. Each new year is marked by one of 12 zodiac animals and is said to carry the characteristics of that animal:

  • Rat – adaptable, stable, hardworking
  • Ox – diligent, strong, determined, dependable
  • Tiger – powerful, bold, wild
  • Rabbit – tender, patient, polite
  • Dragon – lucky, adventurous, brave
  • Snake – warm-hearted, passionate, perceptive
  • Horse – active, energetic, independent
  • Sheep – mild, considerate, thrifty
  • Monkey – intelligent, innovative, sociable
  • Rooster – hardworking, courageous, resourceful, observant, talented
  • Dog – kind, loyal, cautious, honest
  • Pig – generous, compassionate, diligent

The animals repeat in 12-year cycles. The year 2021 is the year of the Ox, a fitting tribute to the resilience and determination of farmers around the world during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

New Year, New Food

Food is one of the most important components of Chinese New Year traditions and celebrations. Popular foods include sweet sticky rice cakes, noodles, dumplings, peanuts, and fish. 

While many traditional recipes include scallions over white or yellow onions, onions like those we grow at Gills Onions do make an appearance. And, many recipes can be adapted and spiced up with a dash of fresh onion. Here are a few of our favorites:

  • Ginger-Onion Whole Steamed Fish – While this recipe focuses on green onions, finely chopped white or yellow onions stuffed into the fish or incorporated into the sauce add a nice depth of flavor. 
  • Long Chinese New Year Noodles – This take on the many noodle dishes served during Chinese New Year celebrations highlights fresh vegetables like mushrooms, bok choy, and bamboo shoots. Add in some onion and your other favorite vegetables, too. 
  • Szechuan Hot Pot – Every region of China has their own take on a hot pot meal. Adapt your hot pot to match favorite ingredients, like onion, from your home. 
  • Fortune Pockets – These dumplings combine meat, vegetables, and spices, and they can be steamed or deep fried. Add onions to your fillings and prepare with family and friends. Wrapping the pockets together is the perfect way to celebrate a new year. 

Don’t Forget About Farmers

Agriculture is one of the most essential industries in the world. Without the food that farmers grow, we wouldn’t have much to celebrate. However you choose to ring in the New Year, we encourage you to remember and support the hardworking farmers that make your meals possible. Cooking with onions is a great way to start. 

Ready to try onions the Gills Way? For more information, contact our sales department. 

Black History Month: 7 Black Innovators in Agricultural Industry

Each February, we have the opportunity to reflect on and celebrate the contributions of Black Americans. Those of us in the agricultural industry have plenty of African American inventors and farmers to thank for the advancements that make our jobs possible. At Gills Onions, we are proud to have a diverse workforce that strives to serve our communities and, of course, provide them with the world’s best onions. 

Here are seven Black farmers and inventors that you should know about and remember the next time you fill your plate. 

1. Henry Blair

Henry Blair was the second African American in history to be issued a United States patent. Born in Maryland in 1807 as a free man, Blair was a successful farmer, but he saw a need for more efficiency and smarter labor. 

His first invention was patented in 1834 as a “Seed-Planter” designed specifically to make the process of planting corn faster and simpler. A compartment stored and dropped seeds into the ground while attached rakes followed along behind to cover the seeds with soil. Two years later he received his second patent for a “Cotton-Planter” that was pulled by two horses as it dropped cotton seeds into freshly plowed soil. 

These inventions revolutionized the task of planting each individual seed by hand and made it easier for farmers to plant more in less time. Today, we see Blair’s influence in the mechanized farming machinery we use to plant and harvest onions on thousands of acres each year.

2. George Washington Carver

George Washington Carver is one of the most notable agricultural scientists and inventors of the modern American era. Realizing that soil in many southern states had been stripped of essential nutrients like nitrogen from repetitive cotton planting processes, he developed a new method for crop rotation. By alternating cotton crops with other produce like peanuts and corn, nitrogen was reintroduced to the soil and increased its productivity.

Carver also promoted practices that seem commonplace today like composting soil with organic matter. His work benefitted scores of sharecroppers across the United States, and his ideas for focusing on renewable resources and sustainable agricultural practices have never been more relevant than they are today. They’ve informed the Gills Onions Zero Waste Initiative and our creation of “Onion Power.” 

3. Frederick McKinley Jones

Frederick McKinley Jones was one of our nation’s most prolific inventors and entrepreneurs. He won the National Medal of Technology and holds a place in the National Inventors Hall of Fame. Over his lifetime, he took out more than 60 patents, but we are especially grateful for his contributions in the world of refrigeration. 

Jones patented a cooling system in 1940 that mounted to the roof of trucks to keep foods cold during extended transportation. Later, it was also used on boats, planes, and railroad cars. During World War II, his invention helped to preserve blood, medicine, and food for transportation between battlefield camps and hospitals. Today, we’re able to ship our onions across the country and keep them fresh longer than any other onion in the market thanks, in part, to the modern version of Jones’ refrigerated trucks.

4. Booker T. Whatley

Booker T. Whatley is a unique but important addition to our list. As a horticulturist and professor at Tuskegee University, Whatley wrote and published the book How to Make $100,000 Farming 25 Acres in 1987. His book became popular with small farmers and large producers alike. 

Whatley’s book offers smart and sustainable ways that farmers can minimize cost and waste while maximizing income and farm space. He also introduced the idea of community supported agriculture where local consumers could pay to receive or pick their own fresh produce directly from local farms, saving both labor and time for farmers. 

These ideas have spurred the movement to know your farmer and appreciate what is on your plate, both causes that are near and dear to our hearts. 

5. Booker T. Washington

Booker T. Washington is a well-known figure in Black History. His work to promote Black education and equal opportunity paved the way for generations of Black scientists, inventors, and entrepreneurs. His involvement with The Second Morrill Act of 1890 forbade racial discrimination in college admissions for schools that received federal funding, which opened the door for many Black people to study agriculture at the university level. 

Education is essential for agriculture. As we learn and study, we can better understand how to keep our soil healthy and productive for the future. 

6. John W. Mitchell

John W. Mitchell was a Black educator and extension agent who worked tirelessly to improve the livelihoods of African American farmers in North Carolina. He famously commuted by bicycle or horse between three counties to organize farmers under the Eastern Columbus Credit Union. This allowed farmers to buy supplies together in bulk and cut costs, a method that set an example for other states and farmers to follow. 

During his lifetime, Mitchell also helped build one of the largest Black 4-H Clubs in the early 20th century. After World War II, membership in these 4-H Clubs soared, and Mitchell helped organize camps and competitions for Black youth to hone and demonstrate their agricultural skills. We’re grateful for his emphasis on education and his dedication to encouraging youth in agriculture

7. John W. Boyd Jr. 

John W. Boyd Jr. is an outspoken defender of civil rights and equal opportunity, especially in the world of agriculture. As a fourth generation farmer, Boyd encountered discriminatory practices at USDA. In response, he founded the National Black Farmers Association (NBFA) in 1995. He has worked with national government leaders, international organizations, and NBFA members across the country to break down barriers and empower Black farmers. Today, the NBFA supports tens of thousands of members. 

We’re proud to promote organizations like the NBFA that fight discrimintation and support farms of all sizes across our nation. Join us by learning more about today’s Black farmers.

Need a New Year’s Resolution? Try These Wellness Challenges

As the new year rolls around, it’s in our nature to assess what we’ve accomplished and make goals for the future. For many, including our staff here at Gills, that means making resolutions around healthy diet and exercise. 

If you’re looking for a reset button this January, you might want to try out Whole30 or the 75 Hard challenge. Both allow for plenty of onion-filled recipes, which we love.

BEFORE MAKING CHANGES TO YOUR DIET, PLEASE CONSULT A DOCTOR AND/OR A REGISTERED DIETICIAN

Origin

Whole30 was introduced in 2009 by sports nutritionists Melissa and Dallas Hartwig to decrease inflammation. Similar to the Paleo diet, Whole30 is low carb and low sugar, and eliminates dairy, alcohol, legumes, and processed additives. Participants follow these strict guidelines for 30 days straight and then slowly reintroduce off-limits foods one by one. 

75 Hard was created in 2019 by podcaster Andy Frisella as a way to get in shape and challenge himself. As lockdowns and quarantine became the norm in 2020, this trend went viral on TikTok. The 75 Hard challenge is less about diet, and more about “building mental toughness.” For 75 days, participants follow any diet of their choosing (no alcohol), drink a gallon of water a day, workout twice a day, take a progress picture, and read 10 pages of nonfiction per day.

Benefits

Giving a diet or wellness challenge a specified period of time often makes participants feel empowered to work toward their goals. 

Participants of Whole30 report feeling more energized, losing weight, and discovering food sensitivities. 

People who try 75 Hard benefit from more regular exercise, hydration, and building positive habits. 

Drawbacks

Because Whole30 is so restrictive, it can lead to disordered eating behaviors like bingeing and certain nutrient deficiencies over time. 

With 75 Hard, a huge emphasis is placed on physical appearance, which can be mentally harmful and lead to unhealthy behaviors like under-eating and over exercising.

Should You Consider a Wellness Challenge?

If you’re someone who loves the thrill of pushing yourself to see results, these challenges could be right for you. 

Is It Sustainable?

Because both of these challenges are for specific time frames, neither one is sustainable long-term. However, the goal for Whole30 and 75 Hard participants is to develop lifelong habits like regular exercise, eating more fruits and vegetables (like onions!), and practicing self-care.

Tips for Dining At a Restaurant or While Travelling

Whole30: If you plan on eating out during a Whole30 challenge, find food items that fit the program like lean protein, leafy greens, potatoes, and seafood. Keep Whole30-friendly snacks like mixed nuts on-hand just in case.

75 Hard: While travelling on 75 Hard, the most important thing to keep in mind is making time for your 90 minutes of exercise. You may need to wake up early or stay up a little later in order to stay on track.

What Area of the Grocery Store to Shop In

During Whole30 you’ll want to avoid the center-aisles of the grocery store (alcohol, sweets, grains, etc.) as much as possible. Stick to the outside aisles for staples like fresh produce, meat, and eggs. 

Common Food Alternatives

It’s important to get creative on Whole30 to avoid early burnout. Here are a few suggestions to try in place of off-limit foods.

  • Almond milk instead of regular milk
  • Nutritional yeast instead of cheese
  • Potatoes instead of rice
  • Poke instead of sushi

Recipes

Sweet Potato Hash

This dish works great for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Start by peeling, cubing, and baking 1 or 2 sweet potatoes at 400 degrees for 15 minutes. Next, scramble some eggs in a skillet and add fresh vegetables like peppers and diced onions. Combine your scramble with the sweet potatoes in a bowl and top with avocado, sesame seeds, and a little hot sauce.

Almond Butter Berry Smoothie

Since dessert choices are limited on Whole30, try a smoothie to satisfy your sweet tooth. All you need are frozen berries, your non-dairy/non-soy milk of choice, and a tablespoon or two of almond butter. Throw in some spinach or chia seeds too for added nutritional value.

If you decide to try Whole30 or the 75 Hard challenge, remember to eat plenty of nutrient-dense foods like onions to keep your body healthy and happy. And don’t get too hard on yourself if you don’t make it the full 30 or 75 days. You’re a winner in our book just for trying!

Ready to try onions the Gills Way? For more information, contact our sales department

Kick off a New Year with the Mediterranean Diet

Picture yourself in a villa in Sicily. As the warm sea breeze blows through your hair, you enjoy a meal of baked eggplant, sun-dried tomatoes, olives, and mozzarella, all doused in olive oil over whole grain toast. You take a sip of red wine and sigh happily. La vita è bella.

Your everyday life might not look exactly like this … but it can come close, at least dietary-wise, with the Mediterranean diet. This food plan is based on the cuisine of the Mediterranean area and is rich in vegetables like onions—our favorite.

BEFORE MAKING CHANGES TO YOUR DIET, PLEASE CONSULT A DOCTOR AND/OR A REGISTERED DIETICIAN

Origin

The Mediterranean Diet was created in the 1950s by a scientist who noticed that less-affluent people living in southern Italy had a lower risk for heart disease than Americans living in New York. He attributed their heart health to diet and introduced a meal plan inspired by the food eaten by the locals. 

The list of approved foods includes: 

  • Fruits and vegetables 
  • Potatoes 
  • Beans
  • Whole grains
  • Fish
  • Olive oil
  • Red wine 

Things like Greek yogurt, cheese, and eggs are also allowed, but in moderation. And like most diets, participants should avoid foods that are processed or high in sugar. 

Benefits

Aside from the possibility of losing weight, the Mediterranean diet has various health benefits. According to research studies, the Mediterranean diet may decrease your likelihood of cardiovascular disease significantly and can even improve sleep!

Drawbacks

The Mediterranean diet does include a high percentage of calories from fat, which can be a deterrent for some people. It can also be difficult to maintain a diet rich in fruits and vegetables that aren’t always in season in the US.

Should You Consider the Mediterranean Diet?

If you’re looking to add more fruits and vegetables to your diet, but still want to be able to eat things like dairy and grains, the Mediterranean diet might be a good fit. 

Is It Sustainable?

As with any diet that restricts specific foods, the Mediterranean diet can be difficult to maintain long-term. However, because there is no “limit” to the amount of approved foods, many people find this freeing and are able to sustain a Mediterranean diet for long periods of time.

Tips for Dining At a Restaurant or While Travelling 

If you don’t live in the Mediterranean, finding foods that work with this plan while on the go can be a little tricky. If you’re travelling, bring along nuts, veggies, and whole grain snacks to tide you over. Here are a few tips for restaurants:

  • Order seafood as your main dish whenever possible
  • Ask for olive oil to dress your salad
  • Look for gluten-free options on the menu (although you’re allowed whole grains, this is a good way to avoid refined grains when eating out)
  • Opt for fruit and yogurt for dessert

What Area of the Grocery Store to Shop In

Like most diets, the outer aisles of the grocery store are your greatest ally with the Mediterranean diet. However, you’ll also want to visit inner aisles for beans and other legumes, whole grains, and olive oil.

Common Food Alternatives

Luckily, the Mediterranean diet isn’t too restrictive, but there are certain foods you’ll want to choose in place of what you might be used to. For example:

  • Olive oil instead of butter 
  • Olive oil instead of other salad dressings
  • Whole grain pasta and rice instead of white 
  • Natural sugar substitutes

Recipes

Greek Salad

Greek salad is flavorful, satisfying, and packed with delicious vegetables. This recipe calls for tomatoes, Gills diced red onion, cucumbers, bell peppers, Kalamata olives, avocado, and feta cheese. Simply combine all ingredients, and top with a homemade dressing of olive oil, lemon juice, red wine vinegar, and other seasonings. 

Gluten-Free Lemon Cake

This recipe uses almond flour, polenta, lemon zest, eggs, and butter (or substitute olive oil) to create a dense and delicious low-sugar dessert. Top with a lemon glaze, or serve warm with Greek yogurt and honey, and enjoy. 

Wherever you live, the Mediterranean diet can be a great exercise in adding more fruits and vegetables to your diet, while avoiding processed foods. You may not be in Sicily, but your palate may think it is. 

Ready to try onions the Gills Way? For more information, contact our sales department