Gilfresh Farming

From Land to Fork: Gilfresh Farming Revolutionizes Dining

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Updated on March 20, 2024

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From cultivating the land, to harvesting the crop, to delivering fresh produce directly to your plate, Gilfresh Farming has been quietly transforming the dining experience.

This family-run business, originating from a humble four-acre plot in Northern Ireland, has expanded its operations across borders and diversified its offerings, all while maintaining a steadfast commitment to quality and sustainability.

But what is it about Gilfresh’s approach that has allowed it to thrive in the competitive agri-food industry?

As we delve deeper into the Gilfresh story, we’ll uncover the innovative strategies and steadfast values that have made this company a game-changer in the world of dining.

Gilfresh Farming: Past and Present

httpss://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AZRXbozki30

From humble beginnings on a four-acre field in Northern Ireland, the family-owned Gilfresh has grown remarkably, evolving over 57 years from a small scallion and root crop farm to a leading supplier of diverse, pre-packaged vegetables for supermarkets.

With past innovations such as the introduction of pre-packaged vegetables in 2000, they’ve continued to redefine the market. They’ve employed a 138-strong workforce, engaged multiple family generations, and expanded production sites to Spain and Scotland.

Gilfresh’s commitment to future sustainability is evident in their construction of an aerobic digester, turning crop waste into electricity. As they continue to innovate and prioritize sustainability, the family’s passion for farming and delivering high-quality, fresh produce remains at the heart of their business.

Business Expansion and Product Diversification

Gilfresh Farming

Building on their success, Gilfresh has broadened their horizons with strategic business expansion and product diversification. They’ve smartly leveraged product innovation to enhance their offerings, introducing fresh cuts like sliced peppers and pre-packed vegetables.

This diversification not only adds value but also ensures year-round market penetration, with production spanning locations such as Spain and Scotland.

Gilfresh’s expansion isn’t confined to products alone. They’ve grown their workforce to 138 strong and have even ventured into sustainable energy, constructing an aerobic digester to generate electricity from crops.

This multi-faceted expansion showcases Gilfresh’s commitment to growth, innovation, and sustainability, setting them apart in the highly competitive agri-food industry.

Inside the Vegetable Production Process

Gilfresh Farming

Diving into the heart of Gilfresh’s operations, let’s explore how they grow, harvest, and process their vegetables, starting with the scallions in their 15-acre field in County Alabama. From May to October, these scallions are attentively cared for and expertly harvested using precise techniques. They’re grown in 1.8-meter wide beds with three rows, a method that ensures optimal growth. Post-harvest, the scallions undergo a rigorous cleaning process before being bunched together.

The packing process is equally meticulous. In the pack house, the scallions are washed again, labelled, and packed into boxes for distribution. The aim is to deliver fresh, high-quality vegetables to retailers and ultimately, consumers. This careful production process showcases Gilfresh’s commitment to excellence in every step from farm to fork.

A Closer Look at Crop Cultivation

Gilfresh Farming

Let’s now unfold the story behind Gilfresh’s crop cultivation, revealing how seeds become the fresh vegetables that grace our dinner tables. The secret lies in their meticulous focus on soil health, a crucial factor in ensuring robust, flavorful produce.

Gilfresh employs crop rotation, a traditional farming method that’s been modernized. Every season, different varieties take turns in the soil, each replenishing it with unique nutrients, while breaking disease cycles. They’ve found that cabbages following scallions, for instance, yield a more bountiful crop.

As every vegetable has its season, they’ve mastered the art of timing, knowing exactly when to sow and harvest. This, combined with strict quality control, is how Gilfresh delivers freshness from their farm to your fork.

From Harvesting to Packaging: Quality Assurance

Gilfresh Farming

Once the crops are ripe for the picking, Gilfresh’s meticulous process of harvesting, cleaning, and packaging kicks into high gear, ensuring that only the freshest, quality produce makes its way to consumers. Leveraging packaging innovation, every vegetable is encased with care, maintaining its natural freshness.

Utilizing traceability technology, Gilfresh tracks each product, from field to fork, providing transparency and building trust. Quality control is paramount in their process, with rigorous checks at each stage. This stringent assurance guarantees customer satisfaction, as they enjoy the farm-fresh taste in every bite.

The company’s commitment to quality assurance, from harvesting to packaging, reflects their dedication to providing consumers with only the best, revolutionizing the dining experience.

Emphasis on Sustainability and Waste Management

Gilfresh Farming

While the quality of Gilfresh’s produce is undeniably top-notch, they’re equally committed to sustainability and have implemented comprehensive waste management strategies in their operations.

A pivotal part of their sustainable practices is a keen focus on waste reduction. Leftover crop residue powers an aerobic digester, generating electricity for the farm and slashing their carbon footprint. They’ve innovatively turned waste into a resource, exemplifying a circular economy.

Furthermore, unwanted leaves are composted, returning vital organic matter to the soil and promoting nutrient recycling.

Gilfresh’s approach to sustainability and waste management not only reaffirms their commitment to the environment but also positions them as a leader in the agricultural sector, shaping the future of sustainable farming.

Meal Preparation Using Gilfresh Produce

Gilfresh Farming

Gilfresh’s high-quality, locally-sourced vegetables not only drive their successful agriculture business, but also serve as key ingredients in delightful meal preparations. These fresh ingredients are the cornerstone of quick recipes, putting a nutritious meal on the table in minutes.

Imagine sizzling scallions, crunchy carrots, and vibrant peppers mingling in a stir-fry, or fresh, crisp lettuce forming the base of a light salad. Gilfresh’s produce ensures that every bite is a burst of freshness, elevating home cooking to a gourmet experience.

The versatility of their vegetables allows for endless culinary creativity, from hearty stews to colorful summer dishes. Using Gilfresh produce not only supports a local business but also ensures a meal that’s as flavorful as it’s fresh.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Were the Initial Challenges Faced by Gilfresh When Transitioning From Supplying Vegetables to Pre-Packaging Them for Supermarkets?

When Gilfresh first transitioned to pre-packaging veggies for supermarkets, they faced several supply chain challenges. They had to innovate packaging methods to ensure freshness and appeal.

There was a steep learning curve in understanding supermarket standards and demands. They also had to invest in new technology and equipment.

However, they’ve overcome these hurdles, proving that Gilfresh isn’t just a farm, but a revolution in the dining industry.

How Does Gilfresh Manage the Quality and Freshness of Vegetables During Off-Seasons When They Are Not Grown Locally?

Gilfresh employs clever seasonal adaptation strategies to ensure vegetable quality and freshness during off-seasons. They’ve mastered off-season farming techniques, growing in various locations like Spain and Scotland, where the climate allows year-round production.

They’re also keen on utilizing greenhouses for controlled conditions. With these methods, Gilfresh guarantees the supply of fresh veggies, regardless of the season.

Their commitment to quality doesn’t waver, even when local fields aren’t in bloom.

What Are the Measures Taken by Gilfresh to Ensure the Safety and Hygiene During the Vegetable Processing and Packaging Stages?

To ensure safety and hygiene, Gilfresh implements stringent sanitation protocols in their vegetable processing and packaging stages. They’ve got a rigorous cleaning regimen that removes potential contaminants.

Moreover, they’re keen on training employees, providing them with the necessary knowledge and skills to maintain cleanliness and food safety.

They’re committed to delivering fresh and safe products, understanding that their consumers’ health is of utmost importance.

How Does Gilfresh Plan to Further Expand or Diversify Their Product Range in the Future?

Gilfresh’s innovation isn’t stopping at pre-packed veggies. They’re exploring new product lines and market expansion. They’re considering novel vegetable cuts and mixes, responding to the growing demand for convenient, yet healthy food.

They’re also eyeing global markets, ready to bring their fresh produce beyond Northern Ireland.

It’s clear, Gilfresh isn’t just growing vegetables; they’re growing a revolution in dining.

What Are the Specific Steps Taken by Gilfresh in Their Sustainability Efforts to Minimize Waste and Promote Renewable Energy?

Gilfresh takes impressive steps in its sustainability efforts. They’ve integrated sustainable packaging and energy conservation into their business model.

They’re utilizing waste leaves for composting and food waste for energy generation. They’ve even built an aerobic digester, converting crops to electricity.

Conclusion

Gilfresh’s impressive evolution, from a modest scallion farm to a global vegetable supplier, is a testament to their innovative business strategy.

Their commitment to quality, sustainability, and supporting local economies sets a new standard in the food industry.

By successfully merging agricultural productivity with environmental consciousness, Gilfresh is truly revolutionizing the journey from farm to fork, transforming the way we think about and experience our food.

Video Transcript

Speaker 1 (00:00)
I was always brought up farming the land and growing crops and find that all very interesting. Sowing a seed and crop that’s coming in through the door and the smell of the fresh produce coming through the pack house and the washing of that product and all. It gives you great satisfaction that you’re actually, you’re growing stuff, you’re delivering stuff to the customers. Hi, I’m William Gillpman, third generation of our family business, Gill Fresh Produce. We’re growers, packers of fresh vegetables, supply and supermarkets, retailers, food processors, shops across Northern Ireland and Ireland.

Speaker 5 (00:36)
I’m Thomas Gillpon, an owner of Gill Fresh Produce in County Almana. I’m not really the man to make it all happen. William and the team them and all. They make it happen. I just work behind the scenes and looking at land. If I could tell them you don’t get land at the end of an email, they get to talk to people over the country. I suppose it started 57 years ago at my parents place down and put it down. It was simple. They were growing scalions and different wee crops in a four acre field. It was really all hound work on it. He had the whole hoe for weeds and stuff. Way, way back, a long time before it, my father and his brothers grew vegetables for different things then. Simpler, I suppose. A certain amount of indoors that must have been in your blood a bit, and that’s why you liked it.

Speaker 1 (01:36)
When I left school, a lot of stuff was finished in the fields. Cabbage was cutting bags, ternus was trimmed and snedded in the field, and carats were Just early stage has been done by harvest at that stage, but before that, they’re all pulled by hand. Basically, we’re supplying a lot of the shops and wholesalers across Northern Ireland. At that stage in 2000, the supermarkets come into Northern Ireland, where you have the likes all the multinational supermarkets in the UK. Started to build a pack house here and wash and pack and prepack all our vegetables. Just learned every aspect of the business growing up from the farming right through to managing staff and building a team. Now I have a 130 strong workforce here.

Speaker 5 (02:19)
The team now that William has got running, I started the team, but he has really developed the team. They’re an excellent bunch of people. Don’t think there’s anybody that I know has any better team to be working for the business.

Speaker 1 (02:36)
We have the growing side of business, which we always had, which is concentrated on the growing of the vegetables. But in Gill Fresh, in the packing side of business, it was pretty much all about your vegetables, your whole carrots, your whole cabbages. But over the last 10 years, we’ve evolved quite a bit into prepared produce, looking at how we add value by batting the carrot, slicing up your cabbages, dicing your turnips. So all that thing has grown quite a bit. And more recently, even into our new kits, like slicing papers and importing some product as well to add to our current range of products that we grow ourselves. It’s developed quite a bit and it’s exciting going forward.

Speaker 5 (03:12)
I suppose a lot of the highlights has come to head this last 15 or 20 years. With all the crops were growing everywhere, and really all year round production. If it’s not here, it’s in some other place. Spain or Scotland, or also the construction of the aerobic digester several years ago to get the electricity using our own crops, even waste vegetables going into it.

Speaker 1 (03:44)
It’s very much a family business now, and I’m involved in the business. My father and uncle are still involved in the business, but my two cousins are in the business as well. They’ve been a great help as well because they’re looking after the farming side of things. You meet Richard later today as well and growing the product. Then also now, recently, I’ve got a young son, George is only two years of age now, so he’s mad keen about tractors and farming and all, too. It’s trying to keep the whole thing going for future generations as well.

Speaker 2 (04:20)
I’m Richard Gillpan, and I look after the growing side of our business. We have Gillfresh Produce is the packing site, and then we have Gillpan Farms, which grow the vegetables. So So today we’re out in a scalian field, just outside Ported Down in a place called The Horry. This here is a 15 acre batch of scalians we’ve grown here. So we’ve been here for probably over a month now and we’re just coming into the last section of the field. The scalian season for us harvesting stretches from about May through to the middle of October. So we grow two different types. We have summer Scalians and Winter Scalians. So our Winter Scalians, we have sown our first batch there two weeks ago, and they will be harvested come next May. And then we also are summer Scalians next year whenever the land starts to come dry enough for us to travel, and then hopefully that will follow right through the season. The Scallions are growing in what we call beds. So we come into the field, we plough the field, we prepare a fine seed bed, and it’s a 1.2 8 metre wide bed, and we have three rows of three up the bed.

Speaker 2 (05:33)
So this is a couple of reasons growing them in three rows of three. They’re growing closer together, so that helps to manage the size of the crop. So if we go to a part of field where maybe we had bad germination with the seed, you’ll see there’ll be bigger skyings which are out of spec for us, so we can’t sell them. And also growing them three rows together helps the team whenever they’re in harvesting. The three rows they can easily bunch them because all our skyings are manually harvested. So the team that come in, they pull the scalions, they clean around the roots, they put elastic bands around them, and pack them into boxes with 84 bunches in them, and then they get sent back to the pack house where they’re washed, labelled, and sent out to the supermarket. This is a unit. He’s a supervisor in our Skalian field, so he’s looking after the whole team here. So as you can see, he’s pulling the Skalians. He’s cleaning in towards the roots, making sure that they’re presented well before they go back to the factory. Then he’s levelling them up and he puts two bands on them and puts the bunch behind.

Speaker 2 (07:00)
So then he’ll keep doing that. They’ll lay the bunches out and then they’ll fill the trays. Each tray has 84 bunches in them. So if we take a look at a bunch of scalions, this is how we’re sending them back to the pack house ready. So we have cleaned along the tops of where the roots are and along the shaft. We try to remove any so there’s like wee bits of yellow no tips will come into the Scallions, so we’ll just pull that off. But up here, we don’t have to worry about the field because your Scallion bunch that goes to the shop will actually only be about this length. The rest of this is removed. The Scallions is probably one of your more sustainably packed products because this is essentially how it’s sold in the store, just with two elastic bands, whereas all our products will be wrapped in plastic or put in bags. A bunch of Scallions is sold as a bunch of Scallions. That probably makes it more They’re sustainable as an option to buy. We don’t actually process any Scallions. We don’t slice Scallions or anything. All are sold as bunches.

Speaker 2 (08:07)
I suppose they’re part of the onion family. In the field, you can actually smell the onions around the field, so you can substitute an onion for a scallion. A very versatile crop. We have just come a few miles around the road from Skye and field to an area that we have a lot of brassier crops in. So on the farm this year, we’re growing two different types of coverage. So we’re growing a sweetheart coverage and we’re also growing a Savoy coverage. I suppose a lot of our market is still selling the whole head, but our own prepared ranges with Gill Fresh, we use a lot of coverage. The two different types of coverage helps to give us a different blend of colours within the pack, which helps to make it more appealing. Like the Skyeans, harvesting is all manual. So again, we have teams in the field here manually harvesting each piece of the crop. Cabbage, unlike the Skyeans, are planted. So where our Skyeans are sown by seeds, we plant modules. The We have some of the cabbage plants. The seed is sown in the glass house and grew for about four weeks in the glass house before it comes to us.

Speaker 2 (09:23)
And then whenever it comes to us, we have already prepared the seed bed, so we applaud it and made a nice fine seed bed. In this field, we have Savoy cabbage, we have Sweetheart cabbage, we have broccoli just over beside here, and then we have kale on over the other side of the field. So they’re all part of the Nebraska family. Because they’re part of the same family, a lot of the same feeding programmes and pest control programmes are used, so it means that we can grow them together. So the Horsesome process involves the with different team members. They’re taking three rows of cabbage each, and then they’re going through, cutting with a knife. Then as they cut them, they’re making sure they’re not bringing too much extra leaf because the outside leaf isn’t sold, so it remains in the field. We chop it up, plough it in. It helps to add organic matter back into the soil for the next year’s crop. They put them on the carousel. The carousel then brings it round to where there’s another two members in the trailer. So one of them is unloadading into trays, and then the other member is lifting the full tray and then stacking them onto the pallets so that whenever we go back to the factory, it’s just a matter of lifting them off with the forklift and straight onto the line.

Speaker 2 (11:00)
So just before we head back to the packing facility, we’ve just called in at our celery crop. So we’ve harvested some crop already from this field and we are planning to be in here again tomorrow. So celery is an allergen. In order to help stop cross-contamination of harvesting, we do that on a separate day. We use separate equipment, and the team will only be in the celery field that day, or they’ll come to it last thing just so that they’re not in an allergen crop and then move them back into a non-allergen crop. Like the scalions, the grounds prepared, formed into a bed, and then the celery is planted about four row up the field. The spacing helps to maintain the right size of crop. A lot of our customers We’re looking for about a 400-gram stock. So we have worked out the space that we need to get that size of product. We have some over here that’s been harvested. So every week we’re planting a batch to allow us to continue supply throughout the year. So if we want to harvest every week, we have to plant every week. So from April on, we’re planting our celery to try and maintain supply right through to October, November time.

Speaker 2 (12:15)
You can’t smell it, but we in the field can smell the very strong smell of celery. Just as you see the leaves along the ground, it’ll be cut off from the last harvest. And again, we’ll just go over here and we’ll actually cut a duck, just to show you what is actually left behind. Celery is actually in the same family as your cards, your parsips, and your partially. So it’s another factor we have to consider whenever we’re planting where to plant the celery. We have to make sure it’s not following the crop just in case there’s any carry-over of diseases. Again, celery is another one of our crops that can be ate straight from the field. It’s as fresh as you can get it coming straight from the field.

Speaker 4 (13:29)
Hello, Hello there. I’m William Gindy, the general manager at Gill Fresh Produce. Here behind me, this is our pack house number 2 facility, where we process all of our brassicas, our cabages, our salads. Here behind me, for example, you can see our packaging line where we take care, look after the cabages as they come from the field, grade them according to the customer’s specifications, label them, and ensure that the quality is up to the standard that our customers are looking for. As we come here to the finished product in the packing line, as the raw material comes in in those crates, it’s graded, all the waste leaf is taken off, the weights are all checked to make sure that they comply with all the relevant technical standards. As you can see with me as well, as the line moves, there is a waste box there where all the waste leaf goes and all of our waste here, food waste, goes into our anaerobic digester. That’s there to produce biomethane, and in turn, it produces electricity. So we want to work with harmony with nature. We want to produce our own energy from all of our waste.

Speaker 4 (14:40)
So it’s a great sustainable business. And as you can see here, this is the finished product. It goes on the customer shelf. It’s compliant to the standards. It’s fresh, it’s locally grown. It’s a great product, and we’re really proud to be here.

Speaker 3 (14:56)
Hi, guys. This is Mario Abu Samra, and I’m head of operation here in GiveFresh. So today you have seen in the fields how we plant and how we harvest the scalions. And here we’re going to see together the washing, cutting, and preparation of all the scalions to deliver our product to the customer within the same day or the next day on the shelves to keep the freshness for the customers. Here we see the first. This is the same craze that we saw in the farm. So they’re coming in these craze already precut at a specific length. And the start of the line is just with in the first wash. In the first wash, we’ll have the people that are just putting it on the first machine where actually it’s washed properly all the roots and cuts another time with the proper length in order to go into proper and the roots are cut and the roots are blanching. So this is our first step here where all the scalions get cut on a specific length and the roots get cut and go to the other stage. This is not considered as a waste because here, sustainability Our sustainability is our first priority.

Speaker 3 (16:01)
So all this waste is actually collected and goes to our plant where we use it as a byproduct to create energy. As a first step here, the roots are removed and the scalions are cut up to length. And we’ll go through the machine where actually is having a further washing to make sure to clean all the scalions and make it ready for the customers. After all the washing, we’ll go for additional check up here. So additional quality checking on the line to see if everything is okay, is there any defects, anything else need to be removed, any leaves need to be removed, it goes straight to the line and continues straight to the packing table where we pack in each plastic crate according to the customer requirements. So after it goes for the trimming and the quality check, as we discussed earlier here, the further line will continue straight to the end of the line where you have a further check. The people are checking the quality and pack inside plastic crates. Here furthermore, the products are checked and seen and put plastic on it and it goes inside the plastic crates that is ready for delivery.

Speaker 3 (17:14)
So this is our last step here, where the product being loaded on the truck. This is the same product that has been harvested today, back today, and will be loaded today to be delivered tomorrow for all the retailers.

Speaker 4 (17:31)
So that was a short insight in what we do here at Gill Fresh in packing our fresh quality vegetables all the way from our field into the pack house and on to the customer. Now I’m going to pass you over to my colleague, Caroline, who’s going to be using some of our ready vegetable kits to cook some very delicious meal for you.

Speaker 6 (18:04)
Hi, everyone. My name is Caroline, and I’m from Gillfresh Produce. Alongside our wholehead vegetables that we grow and pack on site, we have also developed a range of prepared vegetables this year in our own Gill Fresh brand, and that’s what I would like to talk you through today. This range of vegetables here is our core range of vegetables. The reason we decided to, I suppose design and develop these products was to try and make everyone’s life a little bit easier. Everyone’s very busy, and we’re all very mindful of trying to get in our five a day. And anything, in my opinion, that helps you to get that one of your five a day is a bonus. So we have developed 14 products in total. They’re all very easy to cook. None of them take more than 15, 20 minutes. Some of them would be your traditional prepared vegetables and the newer range would go into a nice, tasty vegetable fajita kit or spice bag kit, which is very popular. Now, I’m going to talk to you just about our vegetable fajita kit. This is a perfect, quick and easy, tasty meal solution for during the week.

Speaker 6 (19:17)
Inside it, we have our mixed peppers and red onion, and we also have the fajita seasoned sachet. So everything you need for the protein is in this little pack. So it is, and whilst I’ve been talking, my colleague Leah has actually been cooking one up for us. So we go over now and see how Leah is getting on. So what Leah has done is just very easily added a little bit of oil into the frying pan. She’s added in some protein, which is the chicken. And just to give it a little bit of a bite. And also then just literally put in all of the vegetables. So you can see you have your sliced yellow peppers, sliced red peppers, sliced green peppers, and also the sliced red onion. And then whenever that all softens down a little bit and the chicken is cooked, you add in the fajita season. And it smells delicious and looks delicious. So I think we should call in some more colleagues here to get everybody’s opinions.

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