Sustainable Hero

Megan Jacobsen – Gills Onions

Megan Jacobsen and Steve Gill of Gills Onions
"A seat at the table. That's what's important. If you've always had a seat, you take it for granted."

From the time she was a little girl, Megan Jacobsen has only wanted one career: to work in agriculture.

“I have a huge passion for farming. I also have a passion for sustainability, though it’s no longer something special. Sustainability is integral to everything we do.”

Growing up and working on family farms in California’s central valley heartland, Megan was inspired by generations of hands-on farmers and strong female leaders, including her mother, the first female president of the Fresno Farm Bureau. From the time she joined the Future Farmers of America as a teen to choosing to major in Ag Communications at Fresno State to taking on her current leadership role as vice president of sales and marketing for Gills Onions — a recognized organic and sustainable agriculture industry leader — Megan has not been afraid to speak her mind. Or get her hands dirty.

“I grew up in a family where we worked the land,” Megan said. “We could not be window farmers, farming from the window of a pickup truck. The day you start window farming, you lose connection and relevancy to the land. My grandfather told me: ‘If you don’t walk the furrows, you don’t know what you’re talking about.’ That advice has shaped my career into what it is today. Staying connected and relevant is key.”

On any given day, Megan can be found walking the fields, facilitating meetings, working one-on-one with customers, talking with colleagues about their needs or analyzing how to improve operations by investing in renewable energy and sustainable supply chains. She works closely with the Gills co-owners and brothers, Steve and David Gill. Megan points to their collective-mission to continue providing high quality products to customers while preserving the fields for future generations — as the Gills Onions products are grown in an environmentally conscious way, maintaining soil health and promoting ag sustainability.

A young Megan held by her grandfather during the family’s grape crop harvest.

“To me, sustainability is not just about solar-powered operations and onion waste. From the time each seed goes into the ground until it goes on a truck, we look at how to make it more environmentally friendly and healthy. So, it’s a passion. To me, sustainability is a passion for healthy food and healthy soil.”

But being a female millennial in an “old school” industry like farming is not easy, Megan says. It can get particularly sticky as she drives new ideas to lower waste, cut emissions, and improve water quality and soil health in a pre-millennial, historically male industry.

“A seat at the table. That’s what’s important. If you’ve always had a seat, you take it for granted. As a woman in this industry, I have to fight for my seat. As a woman, I have to fight for my ideas and fight for people to listen. I have to prove that even after growing up on a farm and within the industry, and 12 years into my professional career, that I know what I’m talking about.. Others don’t have to prove that.”

“We now know so much more than we did 50 years ago. If we’re still farming the same as we did then, we’re totally missing the point. Let’s farm smarter, more efficiently, better.” 

Among many sustainability initiatives Megan has helped with the purchase and installation of 472 kW of solar energy on the roof of Gills Onions’ Oxnard, California-based onion crop processing facility. According to Megan, tapping all the space available on ag-operation rooftops to generate emissions-free energy is both a smart use of resources and a crucial component of good land management.

For more than 10 years, Gills Onions comprehensive sustainability plan has achieved reducing greenhouse gas emissions by installing solar and lowering energy demand, improving air quality by reducing diesel fuels, increasing water efficiency, improving food safety, making soils healthier, and prioritizing quality labor practices.

In addition to lauding her smart business decisions and sustainability leadership, those who work with Megan recognize her as one of the hardest working people they’ve ever met. That’s a rare accolade for her oft-stereotyped millennial generation, she adds.

“Agricultural businesses are undergoing a generational shift. People in my parents’ and grandparents’ generations are transitioning out. My generation and future generations, we do things very differently. We think differently. The time is now to transition leadership in ag. If we don’t transition to next gen, if previous generations don’t take future generations under their wing and build them up, we won’t be ready.”

“Whatever you are not changing you are choosing – read that again.”

A big part of that transition is the shift to fully sustainable ag operations. Megan says that means taking a holistic approach, not just bottom line. She notes that Gills Onions’ customers and partners appreciate the company’s transparency and intense efforts to green the supply chain, from lowering diesel truck emissions to conserving water. Megan points out that the industry as a whole is being held to a higher standard. Ag is changing.

“I don’t blame farmers 50 years ago for their decisions. Today, we know better. If I want change, I must go for it. In personal life, career, or in the world, you need to take responsibility, get up and go be the change. Don’t wait for someone else to make the change. That is what I live by.”


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