Today, the Organic Trade Association announced the names of its 2021 Organic Leadership Award honorees. Below are five visionaries who have advanced organic by promoting the industry’s climate change mitigation practices, investing in social responsibility initiatives, leading organic transition programs and keeping the organic community safe during COVID-19. This year’s awards include two new categories: Community Service and Climate Action.
Leadership Award winners will be honored at the Organic Dinner Celebration next February as part of Organic Week in Washington, D.C.
The Organic Trade Association's first Organic Leadership Award was established in 1997 and awards have been offered annually since. Awardees are nominated by their peers and chosen unanimously by the association’s Board of Directors.
2021 Organic Leadership Award Honorees:
- Organic Pioneer: Mayra Velazquez de Leon of Organics Unlimited.
- Organic Farmer of the Year: Amy Bruch of Cyclone Farms.
- Community Service: Cassie Cyphers and Scott Erickson of Clif Bar and Company.
- Climate Action: Britt Lundgren of Stonyfield Organic.
The Organic Pioneer Award honors leaders who have dedicated their careers to advancing organic agriculture and trade by providing bold vision, innovative creations and solutions, and the leadership required to bring dreams into reality. This year’s honoree, Mayra Velazquez de Leon has built a thriving organic fruit company and is committed to social responsibility and giving back to the farming communities that make organic agriculture possible.
Fifty years ago, Mayra’s father became the first commercial grower in Mexico to bring organic bananas to the United States. Today, Mayra has helped grow the family legacy through Organics Unlimited into the largest family-owned banana company in America. Organics Unlimited sources tropical organic fruit from Mexico and Ecuador and offers three organic banana labels: Organics Unlimited, GROW and Fair Trade Certified.
In 2005 Mayra introduced the company’s GROW program as a social responsibility initiative to help poverty-stricken banana-growing regions in Mexico and Ecuador. Since then, it has provided nearly $3 million in funding to help support education, health initiatives, micro-businesses and environmental programs as well as disaster relief to make positive social change. Organics Unlimited began offering a Fair-Trade Certified label at the beginning of 2021 to go with its GROW label, providing two paths to advocate for sustainable prices for farmers and support growing communities. The GROW label accounts for nearly 90% of more than 30,000 cases of organic bananas that its warehouse handles each week.
Organic Farmer of the Year
The Organic Farmer of the Year Award honors leaders who have made significant contributions to support and advance organic agriculture and trade at the farm level. This year, the trade association recognizes Amy Bruch of Cyclone Farms in York, Nebraska, a 6th generation farmer, with the honor. Since carrying on the legacy of her family farm in Nebraska nine years ago after the sudden passing of her father, she and her husband evolved the operation into one of the most cutting-edge organic farms in the country and converted nearly 2,500 acres of highly productive farm ground to organic row crops, small grains, pulses and oilseeds.
Amy is a soil health expert who uses the Kinsey-Albrecht system approach on her operation, has had experience with various projects to help establish sustainable farming systems on four continents, and she is currently serving as a member of the National Organic Standards Board.
Amy is also the co-founder of AgriSecure, a first-of-its-kind full-service organic consulting company that helps farmers transition into organic production. This effort has already helped convert over 65,000 acres represented by more than 68 farmers across 15 states in their organic transition. Amy’s leadership is widely revered as setting the pace for getting growers through transition and fully certified to organic.
A new award category this year, the Community Service Award recognizes those who have gone above and beyond their standard business practices to be a source of positivity and stability for customers and organic community members during the COVID-19 pandemic. Earning this first-of-its-kind recognition on behalf of Clif Bar and Company are Cassie Cyphers and Scott Erickson.
Cassie Cyphers, Clif Bar’s Senior Sustainable Brand Development Manager, led company efforts to provide Clif Bars to first responders and the food insecure throughout the pandemic. Clif Bar donated 7 million bars to first responders and frontline medical workers, and an additional 7 million bars to people in need. Cassie also spearheaded the company’s efforts to provide organic farmers with personal protective equipment (PPE) they needed to stay safe while growing and harvesting food. Clif Bar donated over $300,000 to six nonprofits serving farmworkers, who distributed 55,000 pieces of personal protective equipment directly to farmworkers throughout California.
In response to local school closures and to support families who depend on school meals, Clif also opened Kali’s, the employee café at its headquarters in Emeryville, Califonia, as a community kitchen. Executive Chef Scott Erickson and the Clif culinary team prepared up to 400 meals per week for staff and volunteers who manage the Oakland Unified School District’s (OUSD) 22 local food distribution sites. Home to more than 50,000 public school students, 71% of OUSD students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch.
Organic Climate Action
Another first this year, the Organic Climate Action Award has been established to recognize those who demonstrate exemplary leadership in advancing organic solutions to mitigate climate change. Britt Lundgren, director of organic and sustainable agriculture at Stonyfield Organic, leads the company’s efforts to reduce emissions from agriculture, particularly from dairy, and advocating for federal policies supporting organic farmers in becoming part of the solution to climate change. She is currently secretary on the Organic Trade Association’s Board of Directors.
During the past five years, a major focus of her work has been supporting the development, funding and launch of OpenTEAM—the first open-source technology ecosystem in the world to address soil health and mitigate climate change. OpenTEAM is intended to revolutionize the way farmers of all types and sizes—including organic farms—access site-specific decision support on how to improve soil health on their operations and track the results.
OpenTEAM is led by Wolfe’s Neck Center for Agriculture and the Environment, and is currently being trialed by farms of all types around the country, including 10 farms in Stonyfield’s direct milk supply program. Britt is passionate about developing tools that streamline and merge organic certification recordkeeping with information producers need to participate in carbon markets, so organic producers have an easier entry into these emerging markets.
Source: Organic Trade Association