NRDC Announces Winners of the 2013 Growing Green Awards

Awards honor leaders and innovators in sustainable food and agriculture

SAN FRANCISCO, CA (April 4, 2013) – The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) today celebrates four remarkable food vanguards for their pioneering efforts to create healthier and more sustainable food systems at the fifth annual Growing Green Awards. The winners, who are leaders in tackling antibiotic resistance on farms, infusing urban areas with fresh produce in corner stores, championing business innovation in organic agriculture and empowering communities with sustainable food equity projects, will be honored this evening at the City View at Metreon in San Francisco.

“America’s highly productive food system is often a disaster for health, communities and our environment,” said Jonathan Kaplan, director of NRDC’s Food and Agriculture Program. “But these entrepreneurs show us that we can defy the gravity of the conventional food industry and innovate smarter, healthier, and more equitable ways to produce food.”

An independent panel of prestigious sustainable food thought-leaders selected the four winners from a pool of 200 impressive candidates that included diverse growers, business leaders and food change agents across the country. The 2013 winners are:

Food Producer:  Russ Kremer, Heritage Acres (Frankenstein, Missouri)  Known as the “Pope of Pork,” Russ Kremer is a fifth-generation diversified pork producer and a driving force in the movement for more sustainably-raised, antibiotic-free livestock. After a near-death experience with an antibiotic-resistant bacterial infection Russ contracted from his pigs in 1989, he realized the dangers of conventional production methods and made immediate changes to his operation. Russ decided to start over and raise pigs the natural, old-fashioned way – free-roaming, pasture-raised and most importantly, without drugs. Russ leads a thriving 52-member Ozark Mountain Pork Cooperative, empowering producers to make similar sustainable conversions and profitably raise healthy pigs without antibiotics. He has cultivated influential relationships for his co-op’s brands Heritage Acres and Fork in the Road with major buyers including Whole Foods, Chipotle, Costco and La Quercia. Russ is the recipient of a $10,000 cash prize for his achievements in sustainable food production.

“I share this NRDC honor with farmers who have had the courage to buck dangerous conventional production trends by transforming their raising operations into models of hope,” said Kremer. “These producers are living proof that we can grow profitable and sustainable food production systems that put health first and preserve the efficacy of life-saving medicine, while also treating animals humanely.” 

Young Food Leader: Brianna Almaguer Sandoval, The Healthy Corner Store Initiative (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)  At 30 years-old, Brianna Almaguer Sandoval has transformed hundreds of Philadelphia-area corner stores into oases of fresh, healthy foods for low-resourced communities. Leading The Food Trust’s Healthy Corner Store Initiative, Brianna is forging a path-breaking and replicable new paradigm for corner stores, as she provides the education, tools, and financial support corner stores need to increase their availability of fresh fruits and vegetables. Under Brianna’s direction, the program has flourished from 11 stores to the nation’s largest corner store initiative with over 680 stores in Philadelphia, Camden, NJ and Norristown, PA. For Brianna, store owners are critical allies in building healthier communities. By getting hundreds of them on board to offer and market healthy foods given the support, Brianna has created the 21st century community-based blueprint to drive healthy eating habits and solve America’s critical food gap.

“Everyone has a right to healthy food, regardless of where they live or how much money they have,” said Almaguer Sandoval. “Greater access to healthy food, especially for children in urban areas, translates as life-changing health outcomes. This work is just the beginning of an exciting future for corner stores and public health.”

Food Justice: Tezozomoc, South Central Farmers Health and Education Fund (Buttonwillow, California)  When the city of Los Angeles threatened to bulldoze the nation’s largest community food garden in 2003, local leader Tezozomoc and his community rose in its defense. He rallied the 350 families who grew food to feed themselves from the 14-acre South Central Garden, engaging in one of America’s most important battles for urban agricultural land use. Although the Garden was ultimately closed, Tezozomoc gave it new life through a now-thriving 85-acre, 100% organic cooperative farm in Buttonwillow, California, and the South Central Farmers Health and Education Fund (SCFHEF), a grassroots nonprofit that provides a rich, culturally-relevant variety of organic produce to Los Angeles CSAs, farmers markets and underserved neighborhoods. Tezozomoc incubates small farming cooperatives and empowers small growers with technical and ecological farm management knowledge, market access, and financial viability to create hope for historically marginalized communities.

“By creating new economic opportunities right in our own backyard, we hope to strengthen communities’ ability to grow and eat healthy food as well as reconnect to the priceless cultural heritage behind it,” said Tezozomoc. “Community-based agriculture can prosper if equity is the guiding principle. That equity means having access to healthy food, good jobs and working conditions, and land ownership and resources.”

Business Leader:  Larry Jacobs, Jacobs Farm/Del Cabo (Pescadero, California)  For more than 30 years, California farmer and entrepreneur Larry Jacobs has been a pioneer in scalable and equitable organic food production that prioritizes people and proves that we can grow profitable food without chemicals. After his own dangerous encounter with pesticides in his early twenties, Larry dedicated his life’s work to championing organic farming with innovative non-toxic pest control approaches. From founding California-based Jacobs Farm, the nation's largest producer of fresh culinary organic herbs, to building the Del Cabo Co-operative, a 1,000 family farmer-strong partnership supporting organic growing in Baja, Mexico, to setting a legal precedent that protects organic farmers from drifting pesticides, Larry’s efforts inspire new sustainable food opportunities for thousands of families across the Western Hemisphere.

 “With this Growing Green Award, we hope to encourage other businesses, farmers and innovators to join us in growing healthy food, in a healthier way,” said Jacobs. “We can’t think of anything more important and fulfilling than finding ways to grow good, toxic-free food without poisoning ourselves and the planet.”

The 2013 Growing Green Awards panel of judges included Michael Anthony, executive chef and partner at New York’s long-established and celebrated Gramercy Tavern; Gabe Brown, internationally-recognized soil health champion and 2012 Growing Green Award Food Producer winner; Marion Nestle, award-winning food policy author, professor and one of the nation’s most influential food thought-leaders; and Nell Newman, co-founder and president of Newman's Own Organics.

See video of the 2013 winners and read more about their work in OnEarth and Frances Beinecke’s blog:

The winners will be honored tonight by Will Durst at NRDC’s 2013 Growing Green Awards gala. Additionally, a special NRDC Forces for Nature award will be presented by Nell Newman, co-founder and president of Newman’s Own Organics, to Susan Clark, executive director of the Columbia Foundation, to honor her career-long efforts to advance the cause of sustainable food and agriculture in California and across the country. Susan has roused a robust and growing philanthropic community around the connections between food, health and the environment for more than two decades.

New this year, the event will kick-off with a farmer’s market-themed reception, showcasing the environmental stewardship and specialty products of some of the Bay Area’s finest food producers and purveyors, including: Baia Pasta, Dinner Bell Farm, Full Belly Farm, McEvoy Ranch, Leftcoast Grassfed, Nicasio Valley Cheese, Swanton Berry Farm, Chica Bloom and Baker Heirloom Seeds. NRDC will donate excess food from dinner to Food Runners and recycle wine corks through ReCORK.

Photos and b-roll available upon request. See NRDC’s Eat Green fact sheet and Smarter Living page about making food choices that are healthier for you and the environment.