In honor of  Women’s History Month in March, Gills Onions has dedicated this month to sharing the stories of four extraordinary women on our team. Join us for the fourth and final employee spotlight this month, featuring the story of one incredible woman who has made a tremendous difference here at Gills Onions. We’re sharing her remarkable journey and the pivotal role she plays as a woman in agriculture.

As one of the largest family-owned onion processors in the nation, we at Gills Onions feel it is our obligation to not only provide our customers with the highest quality product, but to be the best possible steward of our resources. This mindset goes beyond our agricultural practices and the way we process our products – it also applies to the way we dispose of our waste: Onion Power: Sustainable, Affordable, and Zero-Waste. Which is why in 2009, we set an ambitious goal to become a zero waste company.

So how do we effectively dispose of our daily onion waste and recycle the water used? With the expertise of Daniela Paez, our waste engineer manager, who is dedicated to ensuring our responsible use of local resources. 

Utilizing Our Waste in the Best Way

Between our two daily shifts, we have the capacity to process roughly one million pounds of raw onions, resulting in nearly 150 tons of waste. With Daniela’s extraordinary work, we’re able to make significant strides towards achieving zero waste with the operation of our anaerobic and aerobic systems.

A Gills Onions employee for the last four years, Daniela’s day begins bright and early, taking countless samples and running multiple tests to ensure the two systems are in optimal health at every step. Based on the results she finds in our onsite laboratory, Daniela is able to make changes as needed. 

Like any living organism, the archaea and bacteria in the system need to have the correct environment to thrive and do their job. Daniela ensures that that is the case, keeping a close eye on pH levels, temperature, nutrient, and oxygen levels to validate that the proper conditions are met. These biological organisms are small but mighty and can process 180,000 gallons of water per day. 

As Daniela reflects on her time here, she can’t help but feel thankful for the support she’s received and proud to work in an environment that values her strengths. 

“Steve has the capacity to value people’s strengths,” said Daniela. “When I came here, I didn’t know a lot about how things operated in this plant and I didn’t have enough experience, but he gave me the opportunity. It’s like a school here. If I don’t know something, he will find the right resources for me to learn.”

Along with being a full-time Gills Onions employee, Daniela is also pursuing her Master’s Degree in Regeneration and Sustainable Development through Universidad de Los Andes in Colombia.

The Early Years

Raised around the hustle and bustle of a large metropolitan city in Colombia, Daniela was never interested in a career in agriculture. Instead, she found herself drawn to water and dreamed of being a civil engineer with a focus on water treatment.

It was during Daniela’s time in college, however, she learned about environmental engineering as a degree option. With this route, she could still focus on water, but in a way that would be beneficial to humans and the world around us. Despite enjoying her classes and tackling the challenging courses head-on, she faced challenges at times as one of only three women in her undergraduate classes.

“When I graduated, it was mainly men in my class,” she said. “The field I went into was more out in the field compared to a lot of other female engineers who were dressed nicely. Here, I’m working. I’m not wearing heels, I’m not wearing makeup – it’s not what I was told I should be doing in my job [as a woman].”

Fortunately, Daniela’s parents were supportive of her interest in science from the beginning, even enrolling her in an elementary school that offered chemistry and biology pathways.

As we conclude our final employee spotlight in honor of Women’s History Month, we can’t help but reflect on the diverse contributions, resilience and lessons learned from these four women in agriculture. Let us not only recognize their achievements, but pledge to continue supporting and empowering women in agriculture. At Gills Onions, we believe in fostering a culture with equal opportunities, ensuring the invaluable role our female employees play in feeding the world and shaping the future of agriculture is acknowledged and celebrated not just today, but every day. 

Did you miss the three previous employee spotlights in honor of International Women’s Day? Dive into the inspiring journeys of Eddyth, Angelica and Laura – three remarkable women in agriculture and Gills Onions employees.