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4 U.S. sustainable food leaders to watch

Get inspired by this year’s Natural Resources Defense Council awards that honor four active visionaries in healthy food, best practices and new ideas.

It’s not often that I’ll watch an online video longer than two or three minutes. But this one, highlighting the fourth annual Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) Growing Green awards, which celebrate pioneers of sustainable and fair-food practices, held my attention the whole way through and left me inspired and hopeful.

In case you don’t have time to watch the whole thing, here are a few quotes from the Growing Green Awards 2012 winners.

Food Justice: Coalition of Immokalee Workers

Cofounders Lucas Benitez and Greg Asbed joined forces to set standards for human rights in agriculture, getting retail buyers of Florida tomatoes to pay a “fair-food premium” that enabled farm workers to receive “the first real increase in wages in over 30 years.” Their goals? “We see our future a one of consolidating gains, institutionalizing fair food program, and that program being one of the keys for a better future for the tomato industry and workers.”

Business Leader: George Siemon, CEO, Organic Valley CROPP Cooperative

Under Siemon’s leadership (born of the countercultural '70s), Organic Valley has grown into the largest organic farming co-op in North America. “We started with one goal: to do it our way,” says Siemon. “We decided early on if we’re going to make organic products we ought to get our right price.... We were stubborn because it was a matter of pride; after years and years of a farm system not working, we wanted one that respected the value of organic foods.”

Young Food Leader: Andrea Northup, DC Farm to School Network

This 26-year-old dynamo has “literally revolutionized how we eat in schools in D.C.,” says a school-chef partner. By providing hands-on workshops, school kids get experience with the farming process. Northup also helps schools get grants to install salad bars and helped changed policy by working to get the Healthy Schools Act passed for all DC schools, which incentivizes schools to serve fresh produce and locally grown foods.

Food Producer: Gabe Brown, Brown Family Ranch, North Dakota

Under Brown’s management, a worn-out farming and ranching landscape was brought back to life. “I think soil health is one of the most misunderstood and one of the least appreciated of our resources,” he says. “So often the production model in agriculture, all it’s about is treating symptoms. On our operation we’ve eliminated the use of synthetic fertilizers on our long-term, no-till soil; we’ve been able to regenerate that soil to the point where it’s sustainable and produces the nutrients we need.... In doing so our operation became not just more profitable, but sustainable and healthier, for the resource and for us as human beings. This is what we need to do as a society to ensure that these resources are here for future generations.”

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