Eat-onomics: The Ten Most Inspiring People in Sustainable Food


Additional reporting/writing by Emilia Benton

The way America eats has to change, that's no secret. Thanks to the efforts of these ten trailblazers, that change might be closer than we think.

<a href=Dan Barber" />Dan Barber, executive chef and co-owner of Blue Hill Farm

Barber is the brains behind the "Know thy Farmer" philosophy embraced at Blue Hill Farm. He was recently honored at the USA Network's Character Approved Awards for his achievements in "green" food cultivation and preparation. A passionate advocate for regional farm networks, Barber continues to practice what he preaches at his family owned farms, as well as with the nonprofit Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture.

Deborah Kane, Vice President of Food and Farms at Ecotrust

Last month, Ecotrust began allowing Northwest food producers and buyers to utilize FoodHub, an online resource aimed to simplify their connections with each other and increase food trade in the Pacific Northwest. Kane continues to expound Ecotrust's mission to inspire fresh thinking that promotes social equity, economic opportunity and environmental well-being.

Mike YohayMike Yohay, CEO of Cityscape Farms

Yohay's Cityscape Farms continues to work to produce great-tasting fresh food for local buyers with its hydroponic greenhouses. "Hydroponic farming is incredibly innovative and resource economical compared to conventional farming. It's well-suited for cities because you can do it anywhere," says Yohay.

<a href=Gary Hirshberg" width="125" />Gary Hirshberg, CEO, Stonyfield Farm

In the past 26 years, Hirshberg has taken his organic yogurt company and turned it into an organic yogurt empire worth $340 million. Stonyfield Farm doesn't just deliver high-quality food to consumers, but pays farmers 60-100% more than conventional farmers, to ensure the use of sustainable farming practices. What does he ask of his customers? "When you shop, you're really voting for the kind of world you want. It is power," he says. "We should use that power for good."

Roger Doiron, founder, Kitchen Gardeners International

Doiron can proudly take credit for bringing a garden to the lawn of the White House with Eat the View, a campaign that rallied Americans' desire to see a healthier First Family. "I knew this garden had been proposed in the past, and it had its champions—Alice Waters, Michael Pollan," he says. "I wasn't a rock star like them, but thought I could play the role of a roadie, making sure the mics are on and the amps are cranked up to make sure other people's voices were heard."

Jamie OliverJamie Oliver, chef

The Naked Chef is on a mission to bring healthy food to every child in America. His campaign, Jamie's Food Revolution, aims to replace junk food and processed snacks with fresh and nutritious meals, in school and at home. ABC will air a six-part series tracking the campaign as Oliver heads to Huntington, West Virginia, which has been called the unhealthiest city in America. If Oliver can make Huntington healthy, he might be able to make America healthy.

Melanie Cheng, founder, FarmsReach

San Francisco-based FarmsReach pairs farmers up with buyers for sustainable local food systems, with plans to be nationwide by 2011. "If you look at statistics, farmers markets and Community Supported Agriculture are awesome, growing distribution methods, but they still make up less than 1% of food volume sold in the country," she says. "That's why we're working with the wholesale channel, for distributors and bigger institutions."

Michael Pollan, author, Food Rules

Pollan's latest book, Food Rules, offers memorable tips on making wise eating choices. In his new book, Pollan (who has been described as the nation's most trusted resource for food-related issues) shows Americans that "eating doesn't have to be so complicated."

Dickson DespommierDickson Despommier, Vertical Farms Project

The Vertical Farms Project is the brainchild of Despommier, a professor at Columbia, and his students. Envisioning a world of sustainable farms housed in urban skyscrapers, the project proposes paying traditional farmers to simply plant trees on their land, in an attempt to sequester carbon from the atmosphere. Crazy? Maybe. But it's inspiring more thought, more solutions.

Robert Kenner, director, Food Inc.

Kenner's documentary Food Inc. did its fair share of grossing viewers out by exposing the heinous slaughter practices (and eating habits) found across our country. More importantly, the film, which showcased leaders like Hirshberg, showed that it is possible to eat healthy and enjoy it.

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  • Jason learned

    I admire the project you are undertaking. I have been interested in designing similar structures for years. I do find your attack on A H a bit petty as well as unmerited and inappropriate. Criticism, albeit somewhat painful at times, allows someone to find new ways of defending their position by pointing out where weaknesses may lie or where ideas were not fully expressed. I implore you to use critiques to fuel bettering your position. I would truly like to see you and your vision succeed, engaging in base reactions to such small negative comments are counterproductive to your goal. And your goal is what matters, find ways to address your criticisms and bring your solutions forward.

    Great change is created by the visionary; mediocrity by the complacent

  • A H

    Oh my. It seems I've given offense, which was not at all my intention. I did not intend to malign you personally, Mr. Cityscape Farms. I don't think my comment 'pitted' anyone against anyone else, and I quite agree with you that we need a diversity of approaches.

    I do want to point out that I'm not the one calling names here. And I do choose to remain anonymous, because I have no wish to make a real enemy of you -- which, judging from the vehemence of your response, would be a distinct possibility.

    We do need a diversity of models. I have nothing against the profit motive, and nothing at all against aquaculture and growing food on urban rooftops. All for it. On principle, I don't even have anything against bringing in venture capital to support such initiatives.

    It's precisely that though: there are so many people out there doing absolutely amazing, diverse, and innovative things in sustainable food, and I found this list to be a rather... superficial representation. Even if we were to amend the title (with a nod to this publication's admitted focus) to the 'Ten Most Inspiring Entrepreneurs in Sustainable Food,' it would still seem thin. After all, most farmers are entrepreneurs. In fact, farmers are often quite radical, brave, technologically and socially innovative entrepreneurs, particularly the growing segment of young and beginning farmers. Countless inspirational figures and stories there! The main difference seems to be that most small and mid-size farmers are aiming to make a decent living rather than a killing... which is admittedly less flashy.

    I suppose my main objection to your own inclusion is your liberal use of the present tense. If my understanding of your business is incorrect, again my apologies. But ARE you currently "producing fresh food for local buyers"? I'd really be interested to know.

    To address your last point. I'm absolutely in agreement with you on that, though I'd amend it slightly: the world needs leadership, not bullshit.

  • Cityscape Farms

    Dear A H ("Anonymous Hack"):

    Will Allen and Joel Salatin are not the only folks doing great things in the sustainable farming world, they just happen to get the most press. Believing that these two people alone should solve the world's problems as they relate to food and the environment exposes your mighty lack of imagination. If you asked Will and Joel they would say they truly cannot do it alone.

    Furthermore, pitting urban ag projects such as ours and Little City Gardens against each other is petty and pointless. We are all working our asses off to make urban food production a viable alternative to industrial agriculture, and to think one model is better than the other misses the point completely. Rather, if we're to engender a sustainable future for this planet we need to incorporate diverse solutions to complex problems. Talk to Dickson Despommier if you really want to know how far along his vertical farm project is. Your minimal knowledge of our progress is what appears to be based on cursory Google searches.

    Instead of scribbling baseless critiques on other peoples' inspiring projects perhaps YOU should get offline and develop your own.

    The world needs leaders, not whiners.

  • A H

    The research for this article seems to have consisted of a cursory google search. Where are the farmers on this list? Will Allen? Joel Salatin? Also: vertical farming is a brilliant-looking design and lovely concept, but let's figure out how to grow food in vacant city lots before we worry about building million dollar skyscrapers to house our hydroponic lettuce. Speaking of hydroponic lettuce: Cityscape Farms is also very much in the concept phase, and contrary to the impressive game they talk they don't seem to DO anything as yet. You want inspiring, entrepreneurial urban agriculture ventures in San Francisco? Check out Little City Gardens in the Mission. You want to get in touch with the real urban agriculture and good food movement that's truly changing our nation's food system in inspiring ways? Try getting offline and maybe even getting dirty.