The Future of Food on Display in NRDC Awards

The Future of Food on Display in NRDC Awards

From a host of innovative food companies, farmers and thought leaders, the Natural Resources Defense Council last night chose three winners for its first-annual Growing Green Awards.

Bon Appétit Management Company, an on-site cafe and catering firm based in Palo Alto, Calif., took home the award in the Business Leader category; Will Allen, the founder of the Growing Power National Training and Community Food Center in Milwaukee, won the Food Producer award; and James Harvie of the Institute for a Sustainable Future in Duluth, Minn., received the Thought Leader award.

The event and award selection panel was chaired by Michael Pollan, the journalist and award-winning author of "The Omnivore's Dilemma" and other books, and including other leading lights of the sustainable food movement: Larry Bain, Founder of Nextcourse and Food from the Parks; Fred Kirschenmann, the Distinguished Fellow of the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture and president of Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture; and Karen Ross, the president of the California Association of Winegrape Growers.

As a result of the sterling quality of the selection panel, the winners are an impressive bunch. We've been covering Bon Appétit Management Company for at least the last six years, as they've done everything from building a sustainable procurement policy to launching a low-carbon diet for their customers. (For more on the Low Carbon Diet program, see Marc Gunther's profile of Bon Appétit from earlier this year.)

The company's Low Carbon Diet initiative works to cut greenhouse gas emissions by overhauling menus and practices at its 400 cafeterias nationwide. By reducing foods with the largest global warming impacts -- namely, beef and ingredients that are flown in to cafeterias -- buying locally produced foods wherever possible, and minimizing food waste, the company thinks it can achieve a 25 percent reduction in GHGs over its 2007 levels by 2010.

And Will Allen's Growing Power has developed a fascinating method of bringing agriculture and aquaculture together in a self-sufficient, nearly closed-loop way. Growing Power's Aquaponics system raises Tilapia and Yellow Perch in large tanks and uses the wastewater to fertilize crops and herbs. The wastewater from the fish tank is filtered and broken down by bacteria into nitrogen, which is used to water and fertilize the crops; the crops further filter the wastewater, which is then returned to the fish tank.

Joel Salatin's Eggmobile (photo from Polyface Farms. eggmobile The winners were chosen out of a pool of 140 candidates and nine finalists, and it's an inspiring sign that, as impressive as the winners are, the finalists (and, presumably, the full list of candidates) are all undertaking similarly innovative practices to bring food production back in line with nature, and make the foods we eat healther, more sustaining and more sustainable.

The other farmers in the finalists' list were Judith Redmond of Full Belly Farm, a Northern California farm that grows more than 80 crops on 250 acres (and from where I get a weekly veggie box as part of their Community Supported Agriculture program), and Joel Salatin, who has developed on his Polyface Farm in Virginia a breathtakingly complex-but-natural ecosystem to raise crops, chickens, beef and other foods in as local a method as exists: Salatin (who was profiled in Pollan's Omnivore's Dilemma) won't sell his food outside of a four-mile drive from his farm.

Obviously, I could geek out about sustainable food production for much longer than I should, so I'll leave it off here; if you want to know more about the winners and the finalists, go to the NRDC's Growing Green Awards site. I'll have much more on this in the future. I had a great conversation yesterday with the heads of what is possibly the greenest coffee company in the world, and today I learned about a winemaker that's developing some industry-leading methods for saving and reusing water in wine production. Stay tuned for coverage on those topics ...

Farm photo CC-licensed by Flickr user Nicholas_T.