State of Green Business

School Salad Bars, Organic Berries, Biopesticides Win NRDC Food Awards

School Salad Bars, Organic Berries, Biopesticides Win NRDC Food Awards

The sustainable agriculture movement, by its very nature, focuses on everything from seed to plate, and the just-announced 2011 Growing Green Awards from the Natural Resources Defense Council reflect the breadth of those efforts.

The third annual awards were handed out to four pioneers focusing on everything from growing to serving food, including a pioneer of organic strawberry farming, a "renegade lunch lady", and the developer of environmentally friendly biopesticides.

The winners, chosen from 265 candidates, are:

During a press conference today unveiling the winners of the awards, Rockamann spelled out an idea that describes all the winners' efforts:

"I say if someone tells you you're crazy, you're probably onto a good idea," she said. "If something's not hard, it's probably not worth doing."

Rockamann, who won the NRDC's first-ever Young Food Leader Award, has started the EarthDance Organic Farming Apprenticeship program to connect more people from non-farming backgrounds to one of Missouri's oldest agricultural landmarks, the Mueller Farm.

"My goal was to reach a wider range of people, particularly urban residents who often feel disconnected from the rural agricultural communities that neighbor them," Rockamann writes in a blog post on the NRDC site. "EarthDance apprentices can stay living in town and at their jobs or schooling, yet learn everything they need to be successful organic farmers."

Jim Cochran, winner of the 2011 Food Producer award, knows a thing or two about being a successful organic farmer -- and about taking on a supposedly impossible task. Cochran's strawberry farm in Santa Cruz, Calif., was the first commercially successful organic strawberry-growing operation, bucking the industry standard of pesticide-intensive strawberry fields that are still the norm for the industry.

"My goal was to demonstrate that it was not only possible to grow strawberries organically but to do it in a commercially successful way," Cochran said during today's press conference, and nearly 30 years later he's proven his point.

Even as Cochran's farm has grown along with the market for every type of organic crop, the chemical pesticide industry has also expanded, even in the face of risks posed by pesticides to the environment, human and animal health and the ecosystem as a whole. But Pam Marrone, the winner of the Business Leader award, has built a business around a better way to apply pesticides.

Marrone's Bio Innovations has developed a range of pesticides that use naturally occurring materials like plants and microorganisms to control pests, rather than toxic chemicals. Marrone's biggest customers are conventional, rather than organic, farmers, and during the press conference she said the market for natural pest management technologies is growing by 15 percent per year, while the chemical pesticide market is flat or even shrinking.

The final award winner today is the "renegade lunch lady," Ann Cooper of Food Family Farming Foundation. Cooper's work focuses on bringing healthy food to schools across the country, especially in the form of salad bars. The organization has created an online Lunch Box that features tips and recipes for bringing healthier foods to kids everywhere. So far, Cooper said they've managed to help get 600 salad bars placed in schools, serving 300,000 kids healthy foods every day.

NRDC has profiles, videos and blog posts of each of the winners on its Growing Green Awards website; the video below offers an overview of the winners' work.



Farm photo CC-licensed by Nicholas_T.