Regenerative Agriculture: Helping Farmers Fight Climate Change

For almost 40 years, Gills Onions has been passionate about two things: producing the best onions on the market and exploring agriculture practices and technologies that maximize sustainability and preserve our earth for future generations. 

Every great onion starts with dirt. Healthy soil makes healthy onions. That’s why we embrace conscious farming practices that reduce our impact on the environment, pioneering a culture of eco-friendly farming in the industry. Our seed-to-package process takes into account every phase of an onion’s journey from the field to your table. But there is always more to learn about and do for our earth!

Our mission is to change the way our industry approaches farming. What if instead of simply sustaining our planet, we could regenerate it? 

Connecting Soil Health and Climate Change

Regenerative agriculture is the latest advance in conscious farming. The concept is simple: All living things and many industrial practices release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Through photosynthesis, plants pull the carbon dioxide out of the air and use it to grow, releasing clean oxygen in the process. The levels of carbon dioxide in the air are higher than ever before, but under the right conditions, plants could pull that carbon dioxide out of the air and into the soil. This would reverse the effects of climate change and restore the soil’s natural organic carbon content. Regenerative agriculture creates healthier plants, soil, and air all at the same time.

It may sound too good to be true, but the process is absolutely natural. It’s what the earth does by itself every day, but regenerative agriculture asks humans to give our planet a hand. 

Traditional agriculture practices like tilling and plowing, using fertilizers and pesticides, and repeatedly growing the same crops in the same dirt year after year slowly degrade soil and release the soil’s carbon into the air. Around the world, fields have already lost a large percentage of their original carbon content. And, up to a third of all greenhouse gas emissions come from the food industry, with nearly 80% of that number coming from agriculture

As National Geographic explains, “Regenerative farming practices like no-till cultivation, cover crops, and crop rotation keep the carbon in the soil, where it builds over time. In turn, carbon-rich organic matter feeds healthy plants.” 

International groups like The Terraton Initiative are working to help farmers all over the world embrace regenerative farming. The Terraton Initiative’s goal is to capture one trillion tons of carbon dioxide from the air and restore it to the soil through regenerative farming. The idea is that by restoring lost carbon to all 3.6 billion acres of farmland used for growing crops on the planet, about a trillion tons of carbon would be pulled out of the atmosphere — reversing the effects of climate change. 

Regenerative agriculture starts with each individual farmer, and the benefits speak for themselves. Farmers who embrace regenerative methods see carbon levels rise in their soil, creating healthier crops with more nutrients. 

Your Power as a Consumer

Why don’t farmers everywhere immediately embrace regenerative agriculture? The average farmer makes a living based on volume — how much of a product they can produce — and not based on quality or how sustainable their farming is. 

Transitioning to regenerative farming practices has a cost and the risk that yields could drop in the beginning before farmers see results. 

That’s where you, the consumer, comes into play. While groups like The Terraton Initiative incentivize farmers with carbon credits, you can support regenerative farming with your business. By purchasing products produced by farms who employ regenerative agriculture methods, you hold the supply chain accountable and show your support for conscious farming.

How do you know if your food comes from an organization that is dedicated to regenerative farming? 

Start by knowing your local farmer. Find a farm focused on sustainability in your area and look for their products. Then, do your research. Being a responsible consumer means finding out who produces the products you use every day and how they do it.  

Celebrate Earth Month With Gills Onions

We don’t have to sit around and wait for new technology or groundbreaking scientific research to change our earth for the better. We only have to decide to make it happen — and you can start today! Here are a few simple ways you can support a healthy environment:

  • Employ regenerative farming practices in your own garden 
  • Join a local CSA or purchase fresh produce from area farmers at the farmer’s market
  • Become a soil advocate
  • Start a compost pile or bin for food waste
  • Get to know your local farmer, and ask how you can support their efforts
  • Recycle and reuse
  • Buy eco-friendly household products
  • Don’t idle your car
  • Collect rainwater, and use it to water your houseplants 
  • Calculate your personal carbon footprint
  • When possible, walk or ride your bike instead of driving
  • Start your own zero waste challenge
  • Plant a tree

Remember, every step, no matter how small, is one in the right direction — toward a healthier world for all of us.

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

The Root of Health: Why Roots Matter More Than You Think

You are what you eat, or so the saying goes. At Gills Onions, we like to take it a few steps farther. You are what you eat, and what you eat is what is in the soil, and what is in the soil are roots. 

We know what you’re thinking, “Are you really about to spend an entire article talking about roots?” You bet we are! Roots are one of the unsung heroes of health. Our health is connected to what we put in our bodies, and healthy food starts with healthy soil. The countless connections between soil and food are roots. 

So, let’s dig deeper into the wonderful world of roots hiding just beneath our feet.

Roots and Microbes Working Together

About 470 million years ago, soil microbes like fungi and plants formed what Chris Topp, an associate member at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center calls “an ancient alliance.” 

Plants were new to the scene, having just finished the migration to land from the water. The first thing the plants did was grow roots. Roots helped hold the plants in place and mined for the resources needed to keep each plant alive. Then, in biological terms, the plants teamed up with fungi to help get resources they couldn’t grab on their own. 

When a plant pulls carbon dioxide from the air, it converts it into sugars. The plant can then use the sugars to fuel growth in roots or leaves, or it can swap the sugars with microbes like fungi in exchange for some of its nitrogen or phosphorus. Other microbes taking part in the swap can include bacteria and even viruses. 

Thousands of tiny interconnected roots make the swap happen, reaching out and working together with microbes to find essential nutrients and water. Some of the microbes help exchange and assemble carbon — one of the most basic building blocks of soil. Others fix atmospheric nitrogen. Meanwhile, the roots excrete organic acids that control the soil pH and make delicious elements like phosphorus more readily available for the plant.

In short, roots rule the soil. They feed the plants and manage the microbes. 

What exactly does this crazy subterranean bartering system have to do with you? Everything. 

Healthy Soil, Healthy You 

Healthy roots are the key to healthy soil and healthy crops. Healthy crops are key to healthy people. And yet, most of us don’t go around chatting about roots every day. We probably should. 

Think about it. During the spring in Oklahoma, one acre of pasture has about 1,000 pounds of plant mass aboveground, but there are about 3,500 pounds of roots below the ground. Healthy roots can increase crop yields, reduce the need for fertilizers and chemical pesticides, and filter more carbon dioxide out of the air. Roots make better air, better food, and more of it. 

The Root of Our Commitment to Soil Health

At Gills Onions, we know the difference that healthy soil makes. Our onions are the best because our soil is the best, and our soil is the best because we care about our roots. 

Our farmers grow each onion “The Gill Way.” We take the time to understand the composition and microbiology of the soil and boost soil health with a balanced blend of macro- and micronutrients that work together to create a microbe-friendly environment. With healthy soil in place, our onions can grow larger, more aggressive root systems, creating healthier stalks and leaves. 

We also promote sustainable ag practices like regenerative farming, drip irrigation, and innovative seed development that reduces the need for pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers. 

We’re passionate about caring for the environment and educating everyone around us about the importance and the beauty of where our food comes from. That’s why we wrote an entire article about roots. Roots matter, and it’s time we all got back to ours. 

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

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. 

Every Day Is Earth Day at Gills Onions

Since our founding in 1983, Gills Onions has dedicated our entire operation to values of sustainability, transparency, and conscious farming. We’ve passionately explored new technologies and approaches that help us maximize our conservation efforts and preserve our earth for future generations. 

At Gills Onions, every day is earth day. Our mission is to be fully aware of the impact our efforts as one of the largest fresh-cut processing plants in the world have on the environment. Every day, we continuously make and achieve goals that hold us accountable to our earth in each organizational and operational level of our business. 

Here are some of the ways we are pioneering regenerative agriculture and eco-friendly business practices and how we are encouraging others in our industry to do the same. 

Our Commitment to Conscious Farming 

Terms like “conscious farming’ and “regenerative farming” boil down to one core principle: reversing the effects of climate change by undertaking agriculture practices that make our environment better. 

We know that healthy soil leads to healthy plants, and healthy soil lasts for generations. We know that everything that happens to our soil happens to our onions and to our planet, so we treat it with the utmost care. 

Through our unique seed to shipment onion growing prescription, Gills Onions is able to reduce our usage of chemicals and minimize our impact on the air, land, water, and other energy resources that surround us. We do so through verified sustainable ag practice like:

  • Increasing plant yields per acre and decreasing the amount of land required for growing 
  • Innovative seed development that reduces the need for pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers
  • Integrated pest management 
  • Drip irrigation  

Farming onions “The Gill Way” has reduced our growers’ use of nitrogen by more than 50% compared to other onion growing operations. We’ve also reduced water consumption by 40%, which means we now conserve enough water each year to meet the annual needs of 2,900 households in our home state of California.  

Curbing Our Environmental Effects Through Zero Waste 

In 2009, we decided to hold ourselves accountable to our own mission of conservation. Gills Onions made a goal to achieve zero waste in our processing, warehouse, and offices. 

Over the past decade, we’ve developed strategies that have helped us move toward diverting 100% of our waste into productive outlets. Through the implementation of wide-range recycling programs and the expansion of waste reduction initiatives, our company’s waste diversion reached 99.2% in 2018.

For example, our innovative Onion Power program uses the Advanced Energy Recovery System (AERS), which converts all of our onion waste into ultra-clean, virtually emissions-free electricity. It provides 100% of the base electrical load for our processing plant, which eliminates 14,500 tons of carbon dioxide emissions each year. 

By being transparent about our energy usage and resource management, we hope to set the standard for other companies to evaluate how they can work toward eliminating waste as well. Every step we take toward environmental accountability makes our world a better place. 

Advocating for Community Change 

Too often, businesses shy away from words like “sustainable” and “eco-friendly” fearing that they will hurt their bottom line. At Gills Onions, we’ve found the opposite to be true. Our earth-friendly initiatives have positively impacted our employees, our customers, our industry, and most importantly, our environment. 

And these practices have benefitted our bottom line. We’ve been able to reduce operational costs, increase efficiency, improve our resource management, and achieve greater energy independence. 

By thinking about how we can better care for our earth each day, we are driving innovation and leading the charge for green policies and practices that benefit everyone. We are advocating for and supporting environmentally-friendly initiatives in the ag industry and in our nation. 

We hope you will join us by supporting and implementing practices in your own home and business that help preserve our earth. To get started, explore these simple ideas. Together, we can all make our world a better place. 

Happy Earth Day!

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