Local growers make good on sustainability claims
Duda Farm Fresh Foods and Gill’s Onions install cutting-edge technologies
By Chloe Vieira 07/19/2012
Grocery shopping used to be simple. Now, our increased awareness of environmental and health issues makes buying food more like a test than a quick errand.
If deciding whether to buy something because it’s locally grown, organic, eco-friendly or recyclable wasn’t confusing enough, consumers have to worry about being tricked by green packaging on otherwise ordinary products. Lots of companies use “greenwashing” to make their products seem healthy and responsibly produced, but often their claims are unsubstantial. According to U.S.-based watchdog group CorpWatch, greenwash is the phenomena of socially and environmentally destructive corporations, attempting to preserve and expand their markets or power by posing as friends of the environment.
“I’m kind of tired of it,” said Sam Duda, vice president of Duda Farm Fresh Foods, which has a fresh-cut celery facility in Oxnard. Duda as well as Steve Gill of Gill’s Onions are going above and beyond in their commitment to eco-friendly sustainable practices.
Duda Farm Fresh Foods is a subsidiary of DUDA, a family-owned diversified land company. Duda’s great-grandfather came to the U.S. from Europe in 1909 to farm in Florida.
DUDA now owns and leases almost 90,000 acres in the U.S. and has developed a reputation for environmental sustainability.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), “Sustainability creates and maintains the conditions under which humans and nature can exist in productive harmony.” In other words, sustainability means planning ahead and conserving resources.
In an effort to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, Duda Farm Fresh Foods has added 37,000 square feet of solar panels to its facility in Oxnard. The solar panels, installed on the roof of the building and on the covered parking area, will meet 40 percent of power needs for the celery cooling facility. This is the first time Duda Farm Fresh Foods has used solar panels on any of its campuses.
Duda said the company looks to install solar technology when it makes sense financially.
In California, federal tax credits and special green utility rates make it easier for companies to use the technology. Those incentives are a result of legislation requiring utilities to get a third of their power from solar panels, windmills and other renewable sources by 2020, signed by Gov. Jerry Brown last year.
The solar panels at the celery facility cost the company more than one million dollars. That’s a financial risk that a lot of companies aren’t willing to take.
“We’re just doing what we think is right,” said Duda.
The company’s products are sold in Albertsons, Costco, Walmart, Trader Joe’s, Ralphs, Vons and in restaurants, under the name Dandy.
Just across the street from the celery plant is Gill’s Onions. Established in 1983, Gill’s Onions is the first food processing facility in the world to convert all of its waste (from unused onion parts) into energy and cattle feed through its Advanced Energy Recovery System. The system converts 300,000 pounds of onion waste into biogas to run the onion processing plant. The leftover onion pulp is made into cattle feed. Each year this system saves the company $700,000 in energy costs and another $400,000 in transportation costs because the onion waste no longer needs to be hauled away.
Gill’s Onions recently added the world’s largest vanadium flow battery to this system. The tennis court-sized battery stores energy at night when it is cheaper, and saves it for use during peak hours. Storing energy in this way allows Gill’s to control its energy use.
“There is a better way of doing business,” said co-founder Steve Gill. Even companies that don’t convert their waste products into energy can use the battery to lower their electricity bills.
At a green ribbon cutting event last week, both companies proudly unveiled their new sustainable technologies.
Gordon Burns, undersecretary for the California EPA, congratulated the companies on their initiative.
“These are two farming families investing in the future,” he said.
Duda is currently looking into a water conservation project for the fresh-cut celery facility.
“Our work is not complete,” Duda said.