November 2013 - Steve Gill of Gills Onions and Rio Farms - Ventura County Agricultural Education

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November, 2013: I have to admit Steve Gill is one of my favorite farmers in the county. I’m not just writing this because he is one of my new Board Members, it’s because back in 2008 when no one knew about my program he was a big supporter from the beginning. He told me – agricultural education is very important. When you’re are setting out on a venture unknown and you meet with the 10th largest grower on the west coast and he tells you what you are doing is great and important it’s encouraging to say the least.

Steve Gill is a fourth generation California farmer and onion processor who has been in the business for most of his life. Together with his brother David, he is the owner-partner of Gills Onions, located in Oxnard, and of Rio Farms, headquartered in King City.

With a longstanding farming tradition – Steve and David’s great-grandfather came down from Canada and purchased farmland in Camarillo in the late 1800s – both men were exposed to farming at an early age. In the 1950s, the family moved from Oxnard, California to the rural farming community of King City, California. While growing up, Steve was active in agricultural youth groups such as Future Farmers of America and knew that he would pursue a career in the agricultural industry. As a young adult he completed a degree in crop science from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.

In 1979 the brothers decided to start their own farming business: Rio Farms. Steve moved his family to Ventura County. The business steadily grew into a diversified vegetable farming operation in Ventura, Monterey, Fresno, and Imperial counties.

In 1983 Steve and David founded Gills Onions, and at that time it had just one customer. A few decades later, Gills Onions has become one of the largest fresh-cut onion operations in the nation, processing up to a million pounds of onions daily, and delivering peeled, diced or sliced onions to industrial customers, grocery stores, and restaurants across the country.

Presently, in conjunction with sister company Rio Farms, the Gill brothers manage nearly 20,000 acres of farmland and 300,000 square feet of processing and warehouse facilities in California. The farming operation has grown steadily over the years, and it is currently listed among the Top 10 growers in the West. In addition to onions – the source for Gills Onions’ supply – they grow several other crops including lettuce, spring mix, spinach, cauliflower, peppers, cabbage, cilantro and celery.

Steve is actively involved in every aspect of the operation – from planting, growing and harvesting to processing and packaging. He is also an entrepreneur who is leading the way toward a low-carbon future. In 2009, the company began using its onion waste to generate electricity at its processing plant in Oxnard. The system, called the Advanced Energy Recovery System, or AERS, uses onion juice to produce biogas to power two virtually emissions-free 300-kilowatt fuel cells, which provide 100 percent of the base-load electricity for the processing plant.

One of Steve’s passions has been to explore new technologies and methods to maximize resource conservation and efficiency in all areas of the business.

Gills Onions is celebrating their 30 birthday this year. HAPPY BIRTHDAY GILLS!