Green America’s Second Annual Green Grants Awarded

Thousands voted, and the results are in for Green America’s 2011 Green Grants contest. Among hundreds of nominees, the winners were found to embody this nonprofit environmental organization’s definition of “green.” To those at Green America, green is a concept that evokes both social justice and environmental responsibility. Urban Roots of Austin, TX received the top prize of $2,500.

Runners-up were Cully Community Farm, Fair Trade Los Angeles, and Hiram Farm Learning and Living Community, each of which received a $1,000 grant. Some 267 nominations for green projects from around the country were put into a pool, from which 10 finalists were chosen by Green America staff. Winners from among the finalists were then determined by a public vote. “In selecting our top ten, Green America tries to factor in geographic diversity to show that these local-level green community projects are happening all across the country. For example, this year our grand-prize winner and three runners-up came from the South, the Midwest, the Pacific Northwest and Southern California,” says Andrew Korfhage, online and special projects editor for Green America.

Grand Prize winner Urban Roots is a youth development program that centers on the practice of local, sustainable agriculture. Participants learn leadership and life skills while producing organic food for Austin residents, many of whom have limited access to healthy food through existing food programs. Max Elliott, program coordinator for Urban Roots, describes the efforts of the program’s volunteers as a meeting of several different social movements like sustainable agriculture and helping combat obesity.

Says Elliott, “If anyone grew up on a farm or has ever gardened alongside their parents or another family member, they remember these experiences with fondness and clarity.” According to Elliott, supporters of Urban Roots find it easy to get involved. “When they see youth farming and teaching others how to grow food for the community, they get inspired and want to encourage others to get their hands back in the soil,” he says.

The grant money will provide the program with critical funds to purchase seeds for the 2011 Fall growing season, according to Elliott, who adds, “This funding will also help pay for youth Market Interns who will sell Urban Roots produce at the Austin Farmers Market downtown this Fall.” The program fulfills the social responsibility side of the Green America equation by assisting less fortunate members of its community, including providing at-risk youths with job training and opportunities, and supplying fresh food to hunger-relief programs.

Keeping food local helps out on the environmental side of things. “Reducing the carbon footprint of our food supply and providing communities with safe, nutritious food—in the face of a nationwide obesity epidemic—are both such important issues right now that I think Urban Roots’ strong food focus helped them take the top slot,” says Korfhage.

Runner-up Cully Community Market is an organic, local farmers’ market in Portland, OR. Serving an area that has been dubbed a “food desert,” the market also provides micro-loans for local residents, including many immigrant women, to establish vendor stalls there. Fair Trade Los Angeles works to increase awareness of Fair Trade values and products, and to make said products more available in the southern California area. Lastly, Hiram Farm Living and Learning Community is an organic farm in northern Ohio that provides valued work for adults with autism. The farm plans to use its grant to purchase solar-powered vents for its new barn.

Published in WholeFoods Magazine, September 2011