Winner, runner-up both exemplify Steltenpohl’s leadership and pioneering spirit, support local communities, says son Eli Steltenpohl. Read their stories.

March 15, 2024

4 Min Read
Greg Steltenpohl Award honors Navajo farmer, Thai native
Bryan Beasley Photography

The Greg Steltenpohl Pragmatic Visionary Award doesn’t honor the brand that makes the tastiest food or most sustainable packaging, yet it’s as valuable as every NEXTY Award.

This year’s winner and runner-up exemplify Steltenpohl’s leadership and pioneering spirit, as well as his concern for environmental sustainability, employee empowerment and authenticity. The annual $100,000 prize recognizes four core principles: systems entrepreneurship, pragmatic vision, ethical leadership and creative transformation.

The award embodies all the goodwill in the industry, as evidenced by the people gathered for the awards ceremony, Eli Steltenpohl said. Friends and industry members founded and financed the award in memory of Greg Steltenpohl, who died in March 2021 after devoting his life to changing the food system through business.

“It’s very much a conduit between our elders, our wise ones, and the next generation. It’s the embodiment of all of our aspirational values: health, sustainability and systems change, as well as a way to celebrate and encourage all of the grit and hard work that is required to turn vision into reality,” he explained.

Zacharia Ben, a sixth-generation farmer and co-founder of Bidii Baby Foods, received the 2024 Greg Steltenpohl Pragmatic Visionary Award from Greg Steltenpohl’s son, Eli.

Zacharia Ben, a sixth-generation farmer and co-founder with his wife, Mary, received the 2024 Greg Steltenpohl Pragmatic Visionary Award from Greg Steltenpohl’s son, Eli. The prize is $75,000.

Related:Jasberry wins 2023 Natural Products Expo East Pitch Slam

Ben and his wife, Mary, founded Bidii Baby Foods LLC, a co-op that makes indigenous baby food. It operates on the Navajo Nation, near the Four Corners of Colorado, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico. The brand works to increase babies’ and toddlers’ access to traditional foods, train young Navajo farmers and dismantle oppressive systems as it rebuilds indigenous food systems.

In a recorded video, Ben explained how the pandemic hurt the food supply on the Navajo Nation. He and Mary realized that, as farmers, they could fix the problem, and they founded Bidii Baby Foods.

“We’re thrilled to support a project that truly embodies healing and nourishment of both people and the land,” Eli Steltenpohl said. “They’re a shining example for Indigenous and locally minded food entrepreneurs alike.”

After thanking everyone involved in choosing the award-winning brand, Ben said, “As a farmer, I say, don’t forget to water your seeds—seeds planted in ideas, innovations, initiatives, community. Let’s continue, together, cultivating and nurturing our seeds.”

Pettachai “Neil” Dejkraisak, left, founded Jasberry in part to support Thai farmers. Credit: Bryan Beasley Photography

The founder of runner-up brand, Jasberry, was similarly inspired to improve the lives of the community he lived in.

“When I first founded Jasberry many years ago, I envisioned a world where a simple healthy choice for consumers could be life-changing for the farmers and the planet,” founder Pettachai “Neil” Dejkraisak said. The award means a lot to him because Greg Steltenpohl believed in using business as a force for change, he added.

Jasberry has generated returns for Thai rice farmers that are 10 times higher than the earnings of conventional rice farmers, according to Steltenpohl.

The brand’s transformative impact includes supporting 2,500 farming families, a 25% reduction in water usage, 50% fewer seeds, and a carbon dioxide reduction of 17,600 metric tonnes compared to conventional rice production. Jasberry is Thailand's first B Corp certified food company; it also holds the Social Enterprise certification.

As the runner up, Jasberry received $25,000 for progress in commercializing a unique superfood rice.

Simpli, a food and ingredients company that supports regenerative agriculture throughout the world, received the award’s first grant in 2023.

Applications for next year's award open in the fall, offering visionaries the opportunity to showcase their commitment to building a positive, plant-centric food system. See the Greg Steltenpohl Pragmatic Visionary Award website for more information.

Watch the NEXTY Awards ceremony, with the Greg Steltenpohl Pragmatic Visionary Award presentations, on demand. The event begins at about 27 minutes into the video.

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