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Growing Green Awards: Winners Produce Food that Nourishes People and the Planet

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Today, NRDC announces the winners of the 2012 Growing Green Awards. These awards celebrate the farmers, business owners, and bold thinkers who are transforming America's food system. Each one of them has pioneered ways to produce food that nourishes our families and restores our water, air, and soil at the same time.

These leaders stand at the forefront of a movement that is sweeping the nation. This is the fourth year NRDC has hosted the Growing Green Awards and within that short time, there's been an explosion of interest in healthy, sustainable food.

It's no surprise people are looking for safer food. In the past year alone, we have had to deal with listeria in cantaloupe, oil in Gulf seafood, fungicide in orange juice, and pink slime in meat.

When we go to the store, we bring home more than food -- we bring home traces of broader environmental problems. But we can use our shopping carts and dinner plates to help solve some of those problems. We can choose food that doesn't lead to illnesses like diabetes and cancer. We can choose food that doesn't contribute to water pollution and climate change. And we can choose food that keeps local economies vibrant and farmers on their land.

Every year, these healthier, sustainable options are becoming more readily available. Grocery stores, school cafeterias, hospital dining services, and even some fast-food chains are starting to provide them. I find this shift very inspiring. It shows that Americans realize if we change the way we eat, we can change the way the food system works.

The winners of the Growing Green Awards are pointing the way forward.

Gabe Brown, a rancher from North Dakota and the winner of the Food Producer Award, has devised innovative grazing techniques that not only sustain a vibrant herd of sustainably raised cattle, but also replenish the health of his soil and provide habitat for wildlife.

A few years ago, Andrea Northup -- the winner of the Young Food Leader Award -- was a recent college graduate sleeping on her friend's couch wondering how to translate her concern about failing school lunch programs into action. Still in her twenties, she is the architect of model healthy lunch legislation adopted in the District of Columbia and is the founding leader of D.C. Farm to School Network, an organization that brings local, fresh food to 200 schools in the District and educates children about growing and eating healthy food.

The Business Leader Award Winner George Siemon also focuses on bringing sustainable food to more people. As the CEO of Organic Valley for 25 years, he has helped countless farmers embrace organic production methods, and created a cooperative of more than 1,700 organic family farms Together, they have demonstrated that organic farming can go from niche to mainstream, competing successfully in the conventional food system.

This year, NRDC added a new prize in the Growing Green Awards: the Food Justice Award. We created this award because we cannot have sustainable food without sustainable labor practices. The people who harvest America's food must be treated with respect and earn a living wage.

Yet many of the Latino, Maya Indian, and Haitian migrant farm workers in Florida's tomatoes fields were routinely deprived of workplace protections that most of us take for granted. Then, Lucas Benitez and Greg Asbed co-founded the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and transformed the tomato industry.

They knew conditions could improve if major buyers paid just a penny more per pound for tomatoes and guaranteed justice in the fields. They approached major buyers with this request and succeeded in getting McDonald's, Burger King, Sodexo, Trader Joe's, and Whole Foods to sign Fair Food Agreements that call on their tomato suppliers to boost farm workers wages and provide more just working conditions. NRDC honors these extraordinary accomplishments by naming Benitez and Asbed the first Growing Green Food Justice Award winners.

All the Growing Green Award winners remind us that when we grow, purchase, and prepare food with care, we do more than provide our loved ones with delicious meals. We create a powerful force for reviving our communities and protecting the environment.

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