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EarthTalk: Growing Green Awards

Published 1:45 pm, Wednesday, December 19, 2012
  • The Growing Green Awards, a program of the Natural Resources Defense Council, recognizes individuals across the U.S. who have demonstrated leadership in the field of sustainable food. Above, Andrea Northup, winner of the 2012 Young Food Leader award for her work with the D.C. Farm to School Network, which links regional farmers with local schools in order to transform cafeteria lunch menus. Photo courtesy of D.C. Farm to School Network Photo: Contributed Photo
    The Growing Green Awards, a program of the Natural Resources Defense Council, recognizes individuals across the U.S. who have demonstrated leadership in the field of sustainable food. Above, Andrea Northup, winner of the 2012 Young Food Leader award for her work with the D.C. Farm to School Network, which links regional farmers with local schools in order to transform cafeteria lunch menus. Photo courtesy of D.C. Farm to School Network Photo: Contributed Photo

 

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Dear EarthTalk: What are the "Growing Green Awards?" -- Allen Sherwood, Denver

The Growing Green Awards is a program of the nonprofit Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) that recognizes and gives exposure to individuals across the United States who have demonstrated original leadership in the field of sustainable food. Each year NRDC gives out the awards to those making extraordinary contributions advancing ecologically-integrated farming practices, climate stewardship, water stewardship, farmland preservation, and social responsibility "from farm to fork."

NRDC gives out the awards in four categories: Business Leader, Food Producer, Food Justice Leader and Young Food Leader. The Food Producer award recipient wins $10,000, while the Food Justice Leader and Young Food Leader each get $2,500. (There is no cash prize for the Business Leader.) An independent panel of renowned sustainable food leaders chooses the winners. Judges for the 2013 awards include owner and chef Michael Anthony of New York City's renowned Gramercy Tavern, Nell Newman of Newman's Own Organics, nutritionist Marion Nestle and organic farmer and rancher Gabe Brown.

Before becoming a judge for the 2013 awards, Brown won the 2012 Food Producer award in recognition of his practices at his ranch in North Dakota, which integrates grass-fed cattle grazing with no-till cropping and is thus able to eschew synthetic fertilizers, pesticides and fungicides altogether. The 2012 Business Leader award went to Organic Valley CEO George Siemon for his efforts over the last 25 years securing fair pay for organic farmers, building market demand for organic foods and playing a critical role in developing national organic standards for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Organic certification.

Meanwhile, Lucas Benitez and Greg Asbed of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, a human rights group focusing on improving conditions and pay for agricultural labor, took home the 2012 Food Justice Leaders award for their work organizing and supporting some 5,000 farm workers in Florida. And last but not least, Andrea Northup won the 2012 Young Food Leader award for her work with the DC Farm to School Network which links regional farmers with local schools in order to transform cafeteria lunch menus. And her work as the principal architect of the `farm-to-school' provisions in the landmark "Healthy Schools Act" is having ripples effects across the country.

Although the deadline has passed for nominating candidates for 2013, nominees the judges will be evaluating will likely represent a variety of fields including food production, food service, retail or restaurants, academia, journalism, policy advocacy and government. As the award was created to bolster responsible and sustainable food production in the U.S., only nominees operating on American soil are considered. The criteria for picking the winners include: innovation in promoting ecologically-integrated food systems, including minimizing inputs of energy, water, antibiotics, pesticides and other chemicals; reducing pollution and global warming gas emissions; use of on-farm polyculture; increasing natural resilience; and stewardship of biodiversity, pollinators, open space and land resources. Judges will also consider nominees' potential to achieve wide scale adoption, implementation or behavioral change, and whether their work advances health, safety and economic viability for farmers, food system workers and communities. NRDC will unveil the new award winners at a Spring 2013 benefit event in San Francisco.

Contacts: Growing Green Awards, www.nrdc.org/health/growinggreen.asp.

Dear EarthTalk: Which are the greenest American cities, and why? -- D. Hansen, Wichita, Kan.

Which American city is the greenest depends on who you ask. Every year dozens of publications and websites release their own assessments of which cities have the most environmentally conscious citizenry, the highest percentage of recycling or the lowest carbon footprint per capita. Portland, Oregon, Seattle and San Francisco are often top contenders, but some of the other leading choices may be a surprise.

The Daily Beast based a recent round-up of greenest U.S. cities on data collected by market research firm Experian Simmons, which has been tracking the greening of the nation for half a century. Researchers polled thousands of Americans to find out what percentage in different geographic regions think and act in an eco-conscious way versus what percentage do not, as well as what percentage make a conscious effort to recycle. The company also tracked the number of public transit trips per capita and the percentage of households that use solar heating by region. Honolulu, most likely by virtue of the fact that one percent of homes there utilize solar power, came out on top. New York, with more than double the amount of public transit ridership per capita than any other U.S. city, is No. 2, followed by San Francisco, Seattle and Boston.

Meanwhile, the website Ecosalon looked at similar types of data and drew different conclusions, finding San Francisco to be the greenest. Ecosalon was especially impressed by San Franciscans routinely voting for aggressive green programs (like banning plastic grocery bags and financing renewable energy sources for public facilities) and by the fact that the city diverts 70 percent of its waste, thanks to mandatory recycling and composting. To top it off, nearly half of all San Franciscans bike, walk or take public transit every day -- and the city is on track to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions 20 percent below 1990 levels this year. Ecosalon ranks Portland, Oregon second, followed by Seattle, Chicago and New York.

In another ranking, Canadian research company Corporate Knights granted Portland, San Francisco and Seattle a three-way tie for America's greenest city. Denver ranked No. 4 while Albuquerque, Charlotte (NC) and Oakland tied at fifth. "Unlike other city-sustainability rankings, this ranking focuses on the effort cities are making rather than on their results, which could take years to achieve," reported Kent Portney, a Tufts University researcher who participated in the project. "In other words, this ranking is aspirational in nature." He says that each city was awarded a point for undertaking one of 38 programs or policies listed by Corporate Knights, in categories such as smart growth, land-use planning, pollution prevention, etc.

And in yet another recent round-up, Mother Nature Network (MNN) declared Portland, Oregon -- where 200 miles of dedicated bike lanes and legions of supporters of local and sustainable food sources rule -- the nation's greenest city. San Francisco, Boston, Oakland and Eugene (Ore.) round out MNN's top five.

Regardless of which city is "greenest," all U.S. cities are greening up every day because planners now realize the economic advantages of using less energy, recycling more and keeping air and water clean. We can all help by supporting municipal energy savings, recycling and composting programs and community enhancement efforts. Who knows: If you keep it up, maybe your city will top one of next year's lists.

Contacts: The Daily Beast, www.thedailybeast.com; Ecosalon, www.ecosalon.com; Corporate Knights, www.corporateknights.com; Mother Nature Network, www.mnn.com.

EarthTalk is by Roddy Scheer and Doug Moss of E -- The Environmental Magazine (www.emagazine.com). Send questions to earthtalk@emagazine.com.