Written by Frances Beinecke, President, NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council)
Last week, NRDC announced the winners of the 2013 Growing Green Awards. These awards celebrate the farmers, business owners, and bold thinkers who are transforming America’s food system. Each one of them has pioneered ways to provide food that nourishes our families and restores our environment at the same time.
This is the fifth year NRDC has hosted the Growing Green Awards, and every year we draw from a larger pool of organic farmers, environmental stewards, and social justice leaders. The sustainable food sector is growing rapidly and spreading across the country, because more and more Americans are demanding better options.
We are witnessing a dramatic shift in what people want from food.
They want food that doesn’t contribute to water pollution and climate change. They want food that doesn’t lead to health problems like diabetes and cancer. And they want food that keeps local economies vibrant and farmers on their land.
I find this transformation very hopeful. People are starting to realize that if we change the way we eat, we can change the way the food system works. We can grow food that is good for our health, good for our communities, and good for the planet.
The winners of the Growing Green Awards are showing us how.
This year’s Food Producer Award goes to Russ Kremer. Known as the “Pope of Pork,” Kremer is a fifth-generation pork farmer from Frankenstein, Missouri. Two decades ago, he contracted an antibiotic-resistant infection from his pigs that almost killed him. The near-death experience inspired him to stop putting antibiotics in his animal feed and to embrace a host of other sustainable practices to profitably raise healthy pigs. Now he runs a hugely successful livestock operation and leads a pork cooperative with more than 50 members that encourages other producers to raise livestock without antibiotics.
Brianna Almaguer Sandoval, who won our Young Food Leader Award, noticed how hard it was to find fresh, healthy food in Philadelphia’s urban communities. Instead of sending people far afield in search of fruits and vegetables, she decided to bring good food to the place people already go: the local corner store. She helped launch the Food Trust’s Healthy Corner Store Initiative to offer store owners the education, tools, and financial support they need to stock fresh produce. Under her leadership, the program has grown from 11 stores to more than 680 stores in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
When the city of Los Angeles threatened to bulldoze the nation’s largest community food garden in 2003, the winner of the Food Justice Award Tezozomoc rose in defense of his community. He rallied 350 Latino farmers who fed their families from the South Central Garden, engaging in one of America’s most important battles for urban agriculture land use. Tezo believes firmly in the power of urban farming to provide healthy food and economic opportunity right in people’s backyards. He now leads an organic cooperative for Latino and other minority growers who supply fresh produce to Los Angeles food programs, farmers markets, and underserved neighborhoods.
Larry Jacobs, who won our Business Leader Award, is committed to protecting farm workers and consumers from dangerous pesticides. After he was accidentally poisoned by agricultural pesticides in his early twenties, Jacobs decided to grow crops without toxic chemicals. The farm he founded in Pescadero, California is now the nation’s largest producers of fresh organic herbs. The Del Cabo Cooperative he and his wife Sandra helped launch in Baja, Mexico enables 1,000 family farmers to grow healthy, organic food and create a sustainable local economy.
From pesticide-free produce to antibiotic-free meat, from corner stores to urban farms, all the Growing Green Award winners have found creative ways to bring sustainable food to more people. They remind us that food we eat every day can be a powerful tool for preserving our communities and protecting our environment.