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NRDC Announces the Winners of the 2012 'Growing Green Awards'

Natural Resources Defense Council

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) honored four remarkable food visionaries on May 16 for their trailblazing work to make our food systems healthier and more sustainable at the fourth annual “Growing Green Awards”. The winners, who are leaders in regenerative ranch management, farmworker justice, farm-to-school food, and making organic food mainstream, were celebrated yesterday at the Palace of Fine Arts Rotunda in San Francisco.

“These vanguards are serving up a food system with generous portions of workplace justice, economic viability and ecological integrity,” said Jonathan Kaplan, director of Food and Agriculture at NRDC. “They are living proof that we can grow and eat food that is good for us, our communities and the planet.”

An independent panel of prestigious sustainable food thought-leaders selected the four winners from a pool of 250 impressive candidates that included diverse growers, business leaders and food change agents across the country. The 2012 winners are:

Food Producer: For more than 15 years, North Dakota rancher Gabe Brown has merged back-to-basics agrarian practices with innovative science-based sustainable farming techniques on his 5,400 acre diversified family ranch. For Brown, healthy soil is the renewable resource that sustains all. By making use of a 100 percent zero-till cropping system, mob grazing, and polyculture cover crop and polyculture cash crop rotations, he has successfully transformed conventional grazing and cropping operations into models of regenerative agriculture. Brown's Ranch also integrates its cow-calf and grass finished livestock operations with a highly diverse cropping rotation, which includes more than 25 different cash and cover crops resulting in high yields and strong net profits.

“Being recognized shines the spotlight on the need to practice holistic management and regenerate our resources,” said Brown. “It's the only sustainable way we can ensure safe, healthy food production for generations to come.”

Food Justice (New Category): As co-founders of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), a 5,000 strong worker-based human rights organization, Lucas Benitez and Greg Asbed have revolutionized Florida's $600 million fresh tomato industry, transforming it from one of the most repressive employers in the country to one quickly becoming the most progressive and equitable in the fruit and vegetable industry. CIW is creating today’s blueprint for farmworker justice by spearheading historic fair food agreements with groundbreaking farm labor standards, fair farmworker wages and labor rights education through their Fair Food Program, which is now implemented on more than 90 percent of Florida's tomato farms. Today, ten multi-billion dollar national companies have signed on to CIW's Fair Food Program and CIW continues to forge critical alliances among tomato growers, workers, food retailers and the community.

“Social accountability in our food system starts by truly valuing those workers whose backbreaking labor puts food on our tables every day,” said CIW’s co-founders. “At CIW, we fight to advance human rights in the fields, and we applaud NRDC for recognizing that a sustainable food system must include fair wages and working conditions for farmworkers.”

Young Food Leader:  Before the age of 25, Andrea Northup founded the D.C. Farm to School Network, an organization behind the movement for healthier school food in 200 public and charter schools throughout Washington, D.C. Northup is not only transforming school lunch menus by charting alliances between D.C. schools and local food producers, but she is also influencing policy in the nation’s capital. In 2010, Northup was the principal architect of the farm to school provisions in the landmark “Healthy Schools Act," legislation that makes D.C. one of the first jurisdictions in the country to provide financial incentives to schools that serve fresh, locally grown products and infuse food and nutrition education into classrooms.

“Each day millions of American children receive their main meals at school,” said Northup. “When these school meals incorporate healthy, locally-grown foods, we are able to improve child nutrition, provide economic opportunities for growers, and teach students eating habits that last a lifetime.”

Business Leader: As CEO of Organic Valley for the last 25 years, George Siemon has led the way in organizing organic farmers, securing fair pay prices and building market demand for organic foods. Under Siemon’s leadership, Wisconsin-based Organic Valley has grown into one of the nation’s leading organic brands and America’s largest cooperative of organic farmers, representing more than 1,700 families nationwide. Notably, Siemon was instrumental in developing the national organic standards for USDA Organic certification. His entrepreneurial spirit and commitment to sustainable agriculture illuminates how businesses can successfully learn from nature and be change agents in defense of our natural resources.

“I'm pleased to receive this award on behalf of our farmer-owners and staff. At Organic Valley, when we talk about sustainability, we mean a triple bottom line of social responsibility, economic stability and environmental integrity,” said Siemon. “That means keeping farmers on the land, supporting rural communities, and being responsible stewards of the environment—a shared mission with NRDC.”

The 2012 Growing Green Awards panel of judges included Michael Pollan, New York Times best-selling author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Myra Goodman, co-founder of Earthbound Farm, Josh Viertel, president of Slow Food USA and co-founder of Yale Sustainable Food Project, and Nikki Henderson, executive director of People’s Grocery and co-founder of Live Real, a national collaborative of food movement organizations.

See video of the 2012 winners and read more about their work in OnEarth.

For more information, click here.

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