Four leaders in sustainable agriculture and food have been celebrated by the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Berkeley Food Institute.
The 2014 Growing Green Awards have awarded honors to outstanding individuals in each of the following four categories: Sustainable Livestock Producer, Regional Food Leader, Pollinator Protector, and Sustainable Food and Farm Educator.
Sustainable Livestock Producer
White Oak Pastures Farm / Bluffton, Ga.
After decades of raising cattle on pastures purged by pesticides and finishing them on a diet of grain, hormones and antibiotics, Will Harris drastically changed his practices and converted to organic and grass-fed. His Southwest Georgia farm, White Oak Pastures, has been in Harris' family since 1866. Yet, by the mid-1990s, Harris started to rethink the conventional shortcuts he used to push his cows to the feedlot. Instead of applying toxic chemicals and synthetic fertilizers, Harris learned to prevent overgrazing, protect water resources, and generally promote soil health through intensive land management and rotational grazing. He went further, sending multiple species (five kinds of poultry, hogs, sheep and goats) through his fields in sequence to control weeds and insects. Green pastures now nourish his animals, which in turn aerate and enrich the land with natural fertilizer. In order to respect his livestock from birth to death, Harris constructed a humane-kill abattoir on site (designed with help from Temple Grandin). He proved his business model is scalable, growing White Oak Pastures from a half million dollar enterprise to the largest organic certified farm in Georgia, taking in over $25 million annually.
Read Harris's blog post: From Factory Farm to Grass-Fed Moneymaker
Regional Food Leader
Sustainable Agriculture Education (SAGE) / Berkeley, Calif.
Sibella Kraus has long called upon cities to embrace the farms at their borders. It was Kraus' vision as founder of the Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture (CUESA) that gave rise to San Francisco's iconic Ferry Plaza Farmers' Market in 1992. Her articles and advocacy have been a driving force in the Bay Area food movement for decades. Today, as president of the non-profit organization SAGE (Sustainable Agriculture Education), Kraus continues to foster urban-rural linkages through the development of urban-edge Ag Parks and the production of agricultural resource assessments for regional planning efforts. A vibrant nexus of organic farm, education center and nature preserve, SAGE's Sunol Ag Park in Alameda County provides beginning and immigrant farmers with land access and urban dwellers with a connection to their food. Kraus is now spearheading another game-changing project to create an agriculture and conservation resource area within the 7,400-acre Coyote Valley, just south of San Jose—the region's largest and fastest growing city. She's determined to preserve the invaluable connections between farmer and consumer, urban hub and working landscape.
Read Kraus's blog post: Investing in our "AgGems" for Regional Vitality
Orley "Chip" Taylor
Monarch Watch / Lawrence, Kan. — University of Kansas
Since insect ecologist Chip Taylor founded Monarch Watch in 1992, the organization has enlisted thousands of citizens to protect the monarch butterfly from extinction. The butterfly's numbers have sunk to ten percent of what they were in 1996, largely because milkweed — the only food source for monarch larvae and where adults lay their eggs — has been wiped out by herbicides and the relentless expansion of corn and soy acres in the Midwest. Based out of the University of Kansas, Monarch Watch has enlisted hundreds of thousands of volunteers each year to track the butterfly's population and advocate for its protection. Now Taylor is on a crusade to plant new milkweed habitat through Monarch Watch's "Bring the Monarch Back" initiative. Beginning in 2005, the program has sent milkweed plugs to over 160,000 schools, parks and home gardens, creating vital fuel sources for butterflies on their migration path from Canada to Mexico. For Taylor, the monarch's decline signals a larger crisis affecting all pollinators, upon whom much of our food system and the food sources of so many animals depend.
Read Taylor's blog post: Bring Back the Monarchs!
Food and Farm Educator
Washington State University / Pullman, Wash.
For Regents Professor John Reganold, the best classroom is a farm and the best textbook is a handful of dirt. In a career spanning more than three decades, Reganold is regarded as an internationally renowned soil scientist and one of Washington State University's most beloved teachers. He founded the first organic agriculture major in the United States and the nation's largest certified organic teaching farm at WSU. Backed by academic research from more than a 1000 farms on four continents, he has bravely called upon students, scientists and policy makers to reimagine conventional farming in America. Reganold has helped train the next generation of sustainability leaders, with over 4000 undergraduate students in his classes to date. He stands at the frontlines of an educational movement, determined to transition farmland away from toxic chemicals and the marks of erosion, toward healthy soils and sustainable, abundant harvests.
Read Reganold's blog post: Smart Soil: Transforming American Agriculture One Class at a Time