Rebecca North, The FruitGuys Senior Buyer and chief Fruit Detective, has been awarded the prestigious 2021 Golden Pliers Award from the Ecological Farming Association (EcoFarm).
According to EcoFarm, a non-profit based in Soquel, CA whose mission is to “nurture safe, healthy, just, and ecologically sustainable farms, food systems, and communities,” the Golden Pliers Award is given to “the person or group who has consistently served over the years, to better the conference, the organization, and the larger EcoFarm family.”
Rebecca was honored in recognition of her years of service to EcoFarm, its annual conference, and the sustainable agriculture community at large. She joined the EcoFarm Planning Committee in 2012, co-founded its Diversity Advisory Group in 2016, and has “been especially involved in making sure that the EcoFarm Conference is a diverse and equitable place in every way, focusing on making sure that women and LGBT people are well included,” the group said in announcing the award.
Rebecca has organized, moderated, and spoken at numerous EcoFarm workshops through the years as well, including many around advancing women, BIPOC, and LGBTQAI+ people in agriculture, and one of the group’s first social justice pre-conferences, “Advancing Equity in Ecological Farming.”
I am thrilled to receive this award and be recognized as a contributor to EcoFarm’s legacy,” said Rebecca. “It is imperative to honor the intersections of identity, justice, and agriculture for those who grow, harvest, pack, and deliver our food. As [poet] Amanda Gorman states.. ‘the norms and notions of what ‘just is’/isn’t always justice’… there is so much listening, learning, and initiating to do!”
Rebecca has spent most of her life working in support of fresh local food and the people who grow and distribute it. Before coming to The FruitGuys in
2007, she worked at Nature’s Corner Natural Market, Veritable Vegetable, and Planet Organics.
“We are all so proud of Rebecca and her work. It is exciting that Eco-Farm is honoring her with the Golden Pliers award this year,” said Chris Mittelstaedt, FruitGuys founder and CEO. “Rebecca is and has always been an advocate for positive change not just in agriculture but in society. It’s an honor to work with her and I’m deeply grateful for her leadership both inside and outside of FruitGuys.”
Rebecca’s favorite fruits are cherries. She lives in San Francisco with her wife Maura, son Jack, a gigantic puppy, and Bernie the cat. She describes herself as a“mother, gardener, queer, hobby herbalist and straight-edge punk.” Rebecca has a masters degree in transnational feminism from San Francisco State University.
EcoFarm 2021 Awards
In addition to the Golden Pliers Award to Rebecca North, EcoFarm also presented its Advocates for Social Justice in Sustainable Agriculture Awards (Justies) and Steward of Sustainable Agriculture Awards (Susties) at its annual conference, held January 20-23, 2021. Here’s who they honored:
The 2021 Justie Awards
Acta Non Verba: Youth Urban Farm Project (ANV)
ANV elevates life in Oakland and beyond by challenging oppressive dynamics and environments through urban farming. Led mainly by women of color from the surrounding neighborhood and larger community, ANV creates a safe and creative outdoor space for children, youth, and families in East Oakland, CA. ANV engages and strengthens young people’s understanding of nutrition, food production, and healthy living as well as strengthens their ties to the community.
First Nations Development Institute
First Nations Development Institute (First Nations) is a nonprofit organization that assists Native American tribes, their communities, and Native nonprofits in economic development by providing technical assistance, training, policy, and the awarding of grants. They support native food sovereignty, food access and economic development. The organization was founded in 1980 in Fredericksburg, Virginia, by Rebecca Adamson to seek answers from within Native American communities as opposed to imposing solutions from the outside.
The 2021 Sustie Awards
Ben Burkett’s family has been farming on the same land in Petal, Mississippi, since 1889, when his maternal grandfather acquired a 164-acre homestead. Not only does Burkett grow exceptional sweet potatoes and watermelon with organic methods, he’s been an activist for more than 30 years, speaking, writing, testifying, and organizing for the rights of independent family farmers in his community, around the U.S. and internationally. He was President of the National Family Farm Coalition; State Coordinator of the Mississippi Association of Cooperatives (MAC), the local arm of the Federation of Southern Cooperatives (FSC); and a member of the international peasant network La Via Campesina. The FSC, an umbrella organization composed of 35 co-ops, representing 12,000 African American farm families from Texas to North Carolina, assists farmers in land retention and the development of economically self-sufficient communities. Building from a tradition begun in the Civil Rights Movement, MAC provides technical assistance and advocates for the needs of its members in the areas of cooperative development and networking, sustainable production, marketing and community food security. He is the recipient of a 2014 James Beard Foundation Leadership Award, among other accolades. He has traveled to Senegal, South Africa, Kenya, Nicaragua, Lebanon, and Zimbabwe with FSC, exchanging knowledge and information with small-scale farmers. He in turn hosted West African honey, rice and vegetable producers who visited the United States to learn irrigation, marketing and packaging techniques from African American farmers.
Rowen White is a farmer, seedkeeper, garden mentor, published author, creative intuitive, mother, wife, orator and storyteller, facilitator and strategic leadership guide, and lifelong learner. She is from the Mohawk community of Akwesasne and a passionate activist for indigenous seed and food sovereignty. She is the director and founder of the Sierra Seeds, an innovative organic seed stewardship organization focusing on local seed and education, based in Nevada City CA. She also cultivates programs specifically for indigenous communities through the non-profit sister program, Indigenous Seedkeepers Network. She is the co-author of Breeding Organic Vegetables: A Step by Step Guide for Growers published in 2011, and was featured in the Documentary ‘SEED: The Untold Story’ which was released in 2016. Rowen is a passionate activist for indigenous seed and food sovereignty. Her family resides on a beautiful seed sanctuary farm in Northern California. Rowen believes that cultivating a culture of belonging needs to be at the heart of food systems change, inviting a diversity of perspectives and voices, cosmologies and values. She believes that food is deeply healing and that when we restore our relationships with our ancestral foods, they help us recalibrate our deep internal knowing of who we are, and this is one of the greatest anecdotes to the diaspora of disconnection that is creating so much ecological and social chaos in these time. In the age of the increasing industrialization of our food and the erosion of biodiversity within cultural contexts, Rowen is continuing to develop a body of work to guide and mentor mindful eaters and food/seed sovereignty leaders in their capacity to lead, vision and nourish with integrity and deep rooted transformation at the very center.
Diane Dempster has had a front-row seat for the growth and maturation of the organic farming movement in the Northwest over the last 33 years. It’s been part of her professional life (as “grower liaison” and Manager of “Farmer’s Own” for Charlie’s Produce) as well as her active nonprofit work with Tilth Producers (as past president and co-vice president) and with PCC Farmland Trust, with which she served as a board member from 2008 until December , She joined Seattle-based Charlie’s, a wholesale produce distributor, as organic buyer back when organic “wasn’t as big as it is now,” she told me in a recent conversation. “When I first started here, organic was really a four-letter word. … Now it’s mainstream.” Today she worked closely with about 50 + Northwest farm businesses, having them pack in the “Farmer’s Own label and connecting them with a Charlie’s buyer for produce the distributor can sell to its clients (restaurants, retailers, food service companies). For produce that Charlie’s doesn’t need, she acted as a broker, helping the farm find other buyers. It’s an unusual role for a distributor to take on – but a needed one, Diane said. Farmers “need to have more than one market,” she said. At the time of our conversation, she had been working the phones, trying to find a market for a crop of fingerling potatoes. “It’s a little bit like the stock market,” she said, “really fast-paced.” She got involved with Tilth Producers not long after it handed off responsibilities for organic certification in Washington to a state agency. At the time, there were about 60 certified organic growers in the state; now there are more than 1000. She helped shift the organization’s focus to education, and today it hosts an annual statewide conference and many events and programs, “basically teaching people how to farm organically and sustainably,” Diane said. She retired from Charlie’s Produce in 2019 and is now on the Clark Food Policy Council and the Boards of Friends of Clark County and Tilth Alliance. She is volunteering for a local food bank helping them source produce.