"Renegade lunch lady' chef Ann Cooper with kids "eating the rainbow"
Fungi to fight plant pests? Agri-biz says it can't be done. Healthy school lunches? Superintendents claim it's too costly and kids won't eat vegetables. Health insurance and pensions for farm workers? There go the profits. Stock options? Forget about it. Mobilize a new generation to farm? Green thumbs are for texting. The average age of farmers' is 57. Four folks who are breaking ground in the world of sustainable agriculture were honored by NRDC this week with the "Growing Green Awards," proving the naysayers wrong. The Natural Resources Defense Council has focused on contributions in the sustainable food system with its third annual prize for innovators in four categories: business, knowledge, food production and young leadership. "Agriculture accounts for one-third of greenhouse gas emissions, if including deforestation," explained NRDC's Jonathan Kaplan who introduced the winners in a tele-press conference: organic berry farmer Jim Cochran for fair labor practices, Pam Marrone for environmentally-responsible biopesticides, Molly Rockamann, who's inspiring a new crop of young urban farmers, and chef Ann Cooper for stirring up a revolutionary school lunch food program.
Molly Rockamann trains farming apprentices from kids to retirees.
Young Food Leader winner, Molly Rockamann, founder of EarthDance Farms, has sprouted a new generation of urban farmers with an apprenticeship program in St. Louis. In 10 hours of training per week they learn the cycle of organic farming "from seed to sales." Grads have established CSA programs, farm-to-table camps for kids and community gardens. "After farming in Fiji, Thailand and Ghana," said Rockamann. "I created EarthDance to preserve a small farm in my hometown." Her idea was to encourage peers to make healthy food, noting the social profit. "It's a source of food as well as community renewal." Perhaps her prize money might help extend the single-year lease on her farmland.
Bugged by zebra mussels? Ask Pam Marrone of MBI for natural solutions.
"Biopesticides increase yields and quality by up to 15% while agri-businesses' chemically-based pesticides growth is flat," said Pam Marrone, winner of the Business Leader award for developing environmentally-responsible solutions to weeds, invasive pests and plant disease management. "Biopesticides reduce the impact to the environment, workers and consumers," she says, adding, "and we're making inroads in mainstream farming." Compared with conventional pesticides, Marrone Bio Innovations' bacteria- and fungi-based alternatives to chemical pesticides are made from naturally occurring materials and microorganisms, reducing pollution in ground water, toxins on foods and risks to workers.
Jim Cochran keeps Tetrahydrophthalimide and other residues off strawberries.
"I take a social justice perspective," said Jim Cochran, co-owner of Swanton Berry Farm, who started the first organic strawberry farm with 100% unionized workers in the U.S. The Food Producer winner, he's not only championed organic farming, but is a pioneer with fair labor practices. "I wanted to demonstrate to the industry that it was possible while still being commercially successful," he explained. While many farm workers are stuck at the poverty level of wages, Cochran offers his 45 employees health coverage, holiday pay, a pension plan, and now includes an employee stock ownership plan. "It's taken a few years to get traction, but the movement is picking up with conventional growers," he says about bringing farming into the 21st century.
Food, Family and Farming
Now there's no excuse not to have healthy food in school lunches with Ann Cooper's online resources. Her Healthy Tools for all Schools offers recipes, financial modeling, ordering details, videos. Again, the "renegade lunch lady" has won NRDC's Growing Green Award, with her tireless mission to rid kids of over-processed foods. Chef Cooper pulled it off at 48 schools in Boulder and now reaches 10,000 users around the country. "They don't need expensive consultants," she says. Her latest venture is the Great American Salad Bar Project. "The goal is 6,000 salad bars in school cafeterias within 36 months. Since January, 600 were installed, and counting.
An independent panel of sustainable food experts picked the winners from a field of 265 growers and activists. Judges included Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore's Dilemma, Maria Rodale, Dan Barber, executive chef of New York's Blue Hill Restaurant, and Dr. Tom Tomich, who heads the Agricultural Sustainability Institute at UC Davis. Follow blogs from the Growing Green Award winners, addressing environmental issues from land conversion to preservation of resources and climate stewardship.
More on sustainable farming:
6 Ways Agriculture Impacts Global Warming
Organic Farming Could Stop Global Climate Change
More on the NRDC:
From Austin to Santa Cruz NRDC's Rates the US's Smarter Cities for Energy
NRDC Reminds US That Small Steps Matter - 15% Reduction in Emissions Possible
How Safe Is Your Beach? NRDC's Latest Report Reveals Marine Health