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Jonathan Kaplan

Jonathan Kaplan

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A New Generation of Victory Gardens: NRDC's Sustainable Food Awards Show Emergence of Urban Farming

Posted: 02/ 5/11 05:45 PM ET

As World War II raged on in Europe, urban dwellers from California to Maine rolled up their sleeves and grabbed their shovels, ready to farm for the cause. With agricultural workers off to war, lay Americans had to become farmers to keep food on the table. Families grew tomatoes in their backyards and zucchini on their rooftops. They harvested in front of San Francisco's City Hall and planted seeds in Central Park.

Based on the entries for this year's Growing Green Awards -- NRDC's annual award series for sustainable food leaders -- the victory garden may be making a comeback. When we created the awards in 2009, we received a single nomination for a rooftop farm. Now in our third awards cycle, the application pile is teeming with up-and-coming urban farmers.

One of my favorites is Eagle Street Rooftop Farm, which sits atop a factory roof in Brooklyn, gazing out over the United Nations and the East River. Dozens of volunteers gather there to plant chard and pick eggplant. Some of the more than 30 types of vegetables grown are bicycled around the city to local restaurants, while growers sell the rooftop produce at the Sunday market.

And in an impressive combination of rooftop production and farm-direct distribution, most of the veggies feed local Brooklyn residents as part of the first rooftop community supported agriculture (CSA) programs in the country.

During World War II, Americans planted more than 20 million victory gardens and reportedly produced 8 million tons of food. With a 21st century revolution in urban farming, could rooftop farms feed a significant number of Americans? Food entrepreneurs in cities across the country seem to think so.

Meanwhile, the job of selecting NRDC's 2011 Growing Green Awards winners is looking harder than ever, given so many impressive nominations. This year we received 265 applicants in our categories of Food Producer, Business Leader, Knowledge Leader and Young Food Leader. While there are only four awards, I can tell you that dozens of these food leaders are qualified to win.

Luckily, I don't have to decide. An independent panel of expert judges, including acclaimed author Michael Pollan, renowned chef Dan Barber, publishing leader Maria Rodale, and UC Davis sustainability director Tom Tomich will choose the winners.

Stay tuned as we continue to preview the finalists and announce the winners of the 2011 Growing Green Awards right here on Huffington Post. Victory never tasted so good.
See last year's winners of the 2010 Growing Green Awards: