01/18/2011 10:18 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Gophers and Berries and Bees, Oh My!

It sounds like something out of a Looney Tunes episode. An exasperated farmer (we'll call him Bob), slings his heavy shovel over one shoulder and tiptoes carefully into his blueberry patch. He kneels on the damp soil, squinting to peer between the thick rows of flowering bushes. As he holds his breath, a furry creature pops its head above ground, sniffing in the cold spring air. Farmer Bob dashes forward. He digs, sweat dripping off his face. Dirt flies into the air forming a spectacular arch.

And in the blink of an eye, the gopher is gone, popping up behind Farmer Bob this time. The gopher giggles in a chubby, furry, chortling sort of way. Repeat scene.

It just so happens that's the real-life situation one farmer faced in California when he found his blueberry farm invaded by gophers. Try as he might to catch them -- fearing that their hungry little teeth would devour his blueberry bushes -- the gophers always seemed to evade his reach. Finally, accepting defeat, Farmer Bob gave the gophers the gold: free range of his blueberry crop.

And then an unexpected and quite amazing thing happened. The gophers didn't destroy the farm or eat all his plants. In fact, these furry rodents are helping his blueberry bushes thrive.

You see, gophers dig tunnels that end up creating the ideal conditions for bumblebee nests. And bumblebees, unlike their overweight cousins, the honeybees, can squeeze perfectly between the long, narrow petals of blueberry bush flowers. See the connection yet? Gophers build the neighborhood for bumblebees. Enticed by an attractive Open House sign, the bumblebees move right in, constructing their nests in the abandoned gopher tunnels. And then, feeling quite settled and content, they fly around like crazy pollinating blueberry bushes.

It's a perfectly natural, closed, and self-contained system.

This year we received 265 nominations for NRDC's 2011 Growing Green Awards, a national award series that recognizes farmers, food producers, thought leaders, and businesses across the country that are transforming the future of our food system. From organic blueberry growers like Farmer Bob, who use no artificial inputs, to college activists who are building an army of young sustainable foodies, the candidates were amazingly impressive.

And it's making our job of selecting the winners of the 2011 Growing Green Awards all that much harder.

Our panel of expert judges, including New York Times bestselling author Michael Pollan and renowned New York chef Dan Barber, is hard at work picking this year's winners. In the spring, NRDC will award one Growing Green Award to the cream of the crop in each of four categories: Food Producer, Business Leader, Knowledge Leader, and Young Food Leader.

Stay tuned as we continue to preview the finalists for the 2011 Growing Green Awards right here on Huffington Post. If you're hungry for some good food and tasty stories, this year's pool of applicants promises to be a real treat.

See last year's winners of the 2010 Growing Green Awards: