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2014 Growing Green Awards Winners Honored For Holistic Food Production & Conversation

Winners in four categories have been selected for the 2014 Growing Green Awards, sponsored by the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) in cooperation with the Berkeley Food Institute (BFI).

This is the sixth year the awards have been held, honoring individuals pioneering innovations and education in sustainable food systems, as well as working toward policy changes and grassroots efforts in conservation.

The award categories were in: sustainable livestock production; regional food leadership; pollination protection; and sustainable food and farm education.

Peter Lehner, executive director of the NRDC, talked about the importance of highlighting innovators, including those focusing their efforts on changing the conventional agricultural system that he calls unhealthy, saying, “On conventional farms, crops and fields are doused with chemical pesticides and herbicides, many of which have been linked to cancer and other serious illnesses.”

Lehner talked more about the vicious cycle of chemical use in conventional agriculture, saying chemical fertilizers drain the soil of nutrients, which then requires the use of more chemicals, “leaving the soil dry and lifeless.”

Lehner also discussed the wider environmental impacts, explaining that, “Excess fertilizer washes off into the water supply, creating ‘dead zones’ in the oceans, and enters the atmosphere, where it is a powerful global warming pollutant.”  

Other areas of focus that were highlighted by the winners’ efforts were the effects of agricultural chemicals on pollinators like butterflies, and the consequences of chemical fertilizers and the overuse of antibiotics in livestock feed.

The 2014 Growing Green Award winners were:

Sustainable Livestock Producer Award Winner

Will Harris, White Oak Pastures Farm, (Bluffton, GA.)

Will Harris received the award for his organic and holistic approach to reinventing his family farm that his family has owned and operated for five generations. The farm humanely raises grass fed, pasture roaming, antibiotic free livestock including cattle, pigs, sheep, goats, rabbits, turkeys, guinea fowl, and ducks.  The farm doesn’t use pesticides or chemical fertilizers.

This approach is a full reversal from the farm’s more conventional industrial methods practiced just over a decade ago. “What saved our farm was returning to the old holistic farming ways, the ways that my great-grandfather used,” said Harris.

This was an organic farm at its inception in the 1860s, but the farm then followed the rest of the country into the industrialized model after World War II. Harris explained the shift in practices during this time, saying, “By this point, scientists had discovered that feeding sub-therapeutic levels of antibiotics to livestock caused weight gain and faster growth, so my dad, along with most of the cattlemen in the country, put our cows on drugs.

“He followed the advice of the newly formed agricultural chemical companies and made heavy and frequent applications of synthetic fertilizer and pesticides to our pastures. The dramatically lowered production costs extracted a high toll in the stewardship of our land and on the welfare of our animals.”

Harris went on to say that, “Yet, despite our increased pressure on the herd and the land, our profit margins remained razor thin. I could not tolerate the idea of handing my daughters an unhappy herd and a poisoned farm that was in a constant state of financial stress.”

Besides the changes already mentioned, Harris also said, “In order to treat our livestock with respect from birth to death, we built two of the few humane-kill abattoirs (slaughter houses) in the country. One is for red meat species and the other is for poultry.

“We now market our products to major retailers like Whole Foods, and serve our meat to guests at the farm restaurant and to staff at the onsite dining hall. My family has gone from generating revenues of less than half a million dollars each year in conventional beef to selling over $25 million dollars annually in pasture-raised organic meats.”

Regional Food Leader Award Winner

Sibella Kraus, Sustainable Agriculture Education (SAGE), (Berkeley, CA.)

Sibella Kraus received the award for her efforts in promoting regional sustainable agriculture in the San Francisco region, including the development of urban-edge agricultural parks, farmers’ markets, and regional agricultural planning efforts.

Kraus is founder of the Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture (CUESA) that gave rise to San Francisco’s Ferry Plaza Farmers’ Market in 1992.

Today, she is also the president of the non-profit organization SAGE (Sustainable Agriculture Education), which incorporates an organic farm, an education center, and natural preserve.

SAGE also participates in regional agricultural planning and investment initiatives, and creates urban-edge agricultural parks, and provides sustainable agriculture education, and outreach.

SAGE also promotes multifunctional agriculture which fosters opportunities for beginning immigrants and established farmers to grow at multiple scales as well as provide food access for local communities.

Among Kraus’ most recent projects has been to try to spearhead the agricultural and nature preservation of the 7,400-acre Coyote Valley, just south of San Jose, from real estate land development.

Kraus explained that, “This valley is the last remaining farmland of the legendary ‘Valley of the Heart’s Delight,’ famous for much of the last century for its orchids of prunes, pears, apricots, and cherries.”

In 2012, with input from multiple stakeholders, SAGE produced the Sustaining Agriculture and Conservation in the Coyote Valley Agricultural Feasibility Study, which assessed the potential for creating a permanent ecological agricultural resource area within the valley.

The California Coastal Conservancy funded the study, which concluded that it’s feasible to sustain agriculture and conservation in the valley, provided stakeholders take “significant strategic action” to implement the goals.

Kraus said that for around $50 million in investments over 25 years, the Bay Area would gain an urban-edge agricultural and ecological resource area that would improve the quality of the region and be “a model for the metro-regions around the country.”

Pollinator Protector Award Winner

Orley “Chip” Taylor, Monarch Watch (Lawrence , KA. – Univ. of Kansas)

Chip Taylor received the award for his efforts to restore monarch butterfly habitats across the Midwest, and create awareness about the importance of protecting pollinator habitats on the larger scope.

Taylor is an insect ecologist and has spent much of his career working with pollinators, which he calls “a keystone group of organisms that help maintain the fabric of our ecosystems.”

The importance of pollinating species, Taylor said is that, “They provide the services that yield the berries, fruits, seeds, foliage, and roots that are food for hundreds of thousands of species worldwide.

“Seventy percent of native vegetation require pollination, as does 30 percent of our food supply. The monarch butterfly’s decline is a bellwether of a much larger crisis facing all pollinators.”

Monarch Watch was founded by Taylor – in 1992 at the University of Kansas – as a tagging program, but with their pollutions experiencing a dramatic decline since the 1990s, with a drop of about 90 percent, Taylor said “the focus of Monarch Watch has switched from education to an all-hands-on-deck recovery plan to save monarch migration.”

The monarch’s main challenge has been habitat loss. Monarchs only lay their eggs on a group of plants called milkweeds that spring up around crops. In the 1990s, with the introduction and rapid adoption of herbicide tolerant crops, famers began spraying with Roundup and eliminating annual weeds including the milkweed.

Taylor added that, “As common milkweed died, monarchs began to decline. Monarch Watch is now on a mission to revive milkweed habitats. We’ve established over 7,000 ‘Monarch Waystations’ or milkweed oases throughout the U.S. and eastern Canada.

“And this year, through our ‘Bring Back The Monarchs’  program, we are in the process of distributing over 40,000 milkweed plugs (small plants) to home gardens, schools, and nature centers. Each garden, backyard, roadside edge, pasture, and piece of grassland with a milkweed plant is a haven for monarchs, other pollinators and the plants and animals that depend on pollination.”

Taylor also tells people and groups that they can take the initiative themselves, and buy and plant their own milkweeds, whether in a backyard, church garden, school, or nature center.

Food and Farm Educator Award Winner

John Reganold, Washington State University, (Pullman, WA.)

John Reganold received the award for this work promoting organic farming in education. He is a soil scientist, a professor at Washington State University (WSU), founder of the first organic agriculture major in the U.S., and creator of the nation’s largest certified organic teaching farm at WSU.

Among Reganold’s projects was a six-year study of apple production in Washington State that compared organic, integrated (a mix of organic and conventional), and conventional growing methods. He said, “We measured more than 15 indicators of soil health, along with pesticide impact, energy use, apple yield and quality, and the farm’s economic profitability.

“Our research showed that the organic and integrated systems had better soil quality and potentially less negative environmental impact from pesticides than the conventional systems.”

Reganold also found that, “All three systems gave similar apple yields, but the organic produced sweeter fruit, higher profitability and greater energy efficiency, compared to the integrated and conventional plots.”

Reganold believes that to transform the farming industry, we need to “stop judging a farm just by the size of its yield, and start considering the health of its soil, the happiness of its employees, and the financial stability of its owners.”


Reader Blog Posts of Winners at OnEarth.org, published by the NRDC


Reader comments and input are always welcomed!

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