Preparing a Generation for Sustainable Ag: How to Talk to Your Children

At Gills Onions, so much of what we do and how we do it is because we are thinking about future generations. We employ sustainable farming practices and strive to minimize our impact on the environment. But we realize that some of the most important work for the rising generation is done by parents in their homes. 

Talking to children about where their food and clothing comes from and the importance of sustainable agriculture is essential. When a child appreciates the role of agriculture in their everyday life, they are more conscientious about their own impact on our earth and want to share what they’ve learned with others. That is the basis of true change. 

How do you talk to your children about agriculture and sustainability? How can you help them gain an appreciation and respect for this essential industry? Here are a few ideas. 

Do You Know Where Your Food Comes From?

Behind every piece of food you eat is a farmer. Farmers are also responsible for many of the clothes you wear, the carpets you walk on, the bedding you sleep with, and even the bandages you use when you’re injured. Agriculture keeps us alive, but farmers are one of the most forgotten groups of essential workers in our country. 

Starting a conversation on this important topic is simple. You may try asking your children, “Do you know where your food comes from?” or “We bought this onion at the store, but do you know where it came from before that?” 

Remember that a simple explanation is always best. Allow your children to lead the conversation and ask questions. Be honest and open, and if you don’t know the answer, say, “Let’s learn about it together.”

Fun Ideas for Learning About Agriculture

If you think agriculture is boring, think again! There are so many fun activities you can do with your children to learn more about farming, sustainability, and caring for our earth’s precious resources. Here are some of our favorites:

  • Go to the library and check out books about farming and agriculture. 
  • Look up your child’s favorite fruit or vegetable online and learn about how it grows and how it is harvested and brought from the farm to your table. 
  • Grow your own garden. You can even begin with a single potted plant in your windowsill. Teach children the basics of growing. 
  • Visit a local farm and learn firsthand from a real life farmer. 
  • Spend time on YouTube watching videos on growing and harvest crops (we use some pretty cool heavy machinery). You can even take virtual farm tours.
  • Conduct farming experiments. Expose plants to different nutrients and stimuli and observe how they react. 
  • Join a local farming co-op to try new vegetables directly from local farmers. 
  • Have children help plan family meals and shop for ingredients. 
  • Visit a farmer’s market and talk to the farmers about their goods. 
  • Visit a local pick-your-own fruits and vegetables farm. 

Healthy Habits Start with Food Appreciation

Obesity now affects 1 in 5 children and adolescents in the US. Part of encouraging children to develop a healthy relationship with food is being grateful for the food we eat. As children are exposed to a variety of fresh foods and are excited about trying new fruits and vegetables, they will develop healthy habits and positive associations with what they eat. 

And, as children think about caring and nurturing for the plants and animals that feed us, they will also think about sustainable ways to care for our planet and preserve it for their own children. 
We’re excited to partner with you as you delve into the exciting world of agriculture. Visit our blog for more ideas and information, and start by getting to know our farmers, Steve and David Gill.

Let’s Talk Sustainability

We operate one of the largest, most innovative fresh-cut onion processing plants in the world. But with a plant capable of processing up to a million pounds of raw onions in a day, we know that sustainability is key. 

Since Gills Onions began in 1983, we’ve passionately explored new technologies and methods to help us maximize conservation and efficiency in every area of our business. Our mission is to be fully aware of the impact our business has on the environment and to hold ourselves accountable. We do this by continuously making and achieving measurable sustainability goals in each organizational and operational level of our business. 

Sustainability Starts from the Seed

Our farmers grow each Gills Onions “The Gill Way.” This onion-growing prescription was personally developed by our founders, Steve and David Gill, and ensures that our products are grown in the most environmentally conscious way — maintaining soil health and promoting ag sustainability. 

We believe healthy soil leads to healthy plants. Everything that happens to the soil, happens to our onions. So, we treat our soil with the utmost care. Soil science is absolutely key. We must understand the composition and microbiology of the soil and how it will interact with plant biology. By considering both sides of the equation in our farming — the plant and the fertile soil — our onions and the fields work together to strengthen each other. 

With healthy soil, our growers are able to reduce their usage of chemicals. Healthier, more productive plants are better able to withstand harsh weather, insects, and disease. We minimize our impact on air, land, water, and other energy resources through sustainable ag practices 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  

Our growers have reconfigured planting beds in the Imperial Valley to increase plants per acre by 15%, reducing the land required to achieve the same yield by 22%. Farming onions “The Gill Way” has reduced our growers’ use of nitrogen by more than 50% compared to other onion growing operations. And by converting 99% of our conventional irrigation methods to drip irrigation, Gills Onions has reduced water consumption by 40%. That means we conserve enough water each year to meet the annual needs of 2,900 households in our home state of California.  

We understand that each growing region is unique. What promotes environmental health in one field may not apply in another. That’s why we work with our growers to find the most sustainable practices for their location. 

Our Zero Waste Facility 

In 2009, Gills Onions made a goal to achieve zero waste in our processing, warehouse, and office facilities. We began by creating a comprehensive inventory of all the waste streams in our business. We then developed strategies to help us move toward diverting 100 percent of our waste into a productive outlet. 

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. We track all of our resource usage from the types of fuel we use to electricity and water. We also keep a detailed inventory of greenhouse gas emissions and report it yearly to The Climate Registry. 

Working “green” positively impacts our employees, our customers, our industry, and our environment. It also benefits our bottom line. We’ve been able to reduce operational costs, increase efficiency, improve our resource management, and create greater energy independence as we pursue environmental sustainability. 

Fueling with Onion Power

A highlight of our sustainability program is Onion Power. Our plant can process up to a million pounds of raw onions each day, creating an average of 150 tons of onion waste. In the past, we trucked this waste to the onion farms where it was worked back into the soil. But this practice wasn’t truly sustainable. It started proving problematic for soil conditions and a high annual cost to transport the waste. 

By collaborating with innovators across the United States over several years, Gills Onions was able to develop the Advanced Energy Recovery System (AERS) 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. 

Healthy Practices Are Sustainable

Each day, we are learning more about sustainable ag practices and how we can protect the environment. At Gills Onions, we want to lead the charge for effective policies and practices that benefit all stakeholders — our business, our farmers, our customers, and our earth. By demonstrating responsibility and leadership, we hope to encourage environmentally-friendly initiatives in our nation and in our industry. 

By nurturing the land where our farmers grow our onions and conserving our resources, we are able to consistently produce onions of the highest quality without compromising valuable resources. We believe that the benefits of growing “The Gill Way” will extend into future generations. 

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