Illinois Stewardship Alliance Awards Golden Beets to Pioneering Local Food Practicioners

Illinois Stewardship Alliance will name the 2014 Golden Beet Award winners at its Annual Meeting on Wednesday, December 10. The winners represent some of the most innovative practitioners and pioneers of local food across the state.

The Golden Beet Awards grew out of a desire by Illinois Stewardship Alliance to highlight progressive local food practices so that they might get the recognition they deserve, and so that they can serve as a guide for others.

“The local food movement in many ways is about building connections; connections between farmers and eaters, people and the land, entrepreneurs and customers, and food cultures and traditions both old and new. Through the Golden Beet Awards we are able to publicly highlight the leaders and innovators who are building those connections and the amazing work they are doing to advance the local food movement,” notes Wes King, Illinois Stewardship Alliance executive director.

Illinois Stewardship Alliance solicits nominations from the general public for the following categories: farm to school; restaurants and institutions; community food projects; innovative farmer; scaling up; and other varieties.  An outside committee of individuals involved in local food systems throughout the state then reviews the nominees and decides on a winner for each of the specific categories.

The 2014 winners are:

Community Food Projects: Gifts in the Moment
Restaurants and Institutions: Heartland Cafe
Scaling Up: Pat Stieren
Innovative Farmer: Janet Zintambila
Other Varieties: Darius Jones, Urban Aggies

Farm to School
Name: GenHKids
genH-logoNow in its third year, the genHkids’ Seeds of Possibility program is expanding its partnership with schools and communities throughout Springfield.  In accordance with genHs’ mission to: “Create a generation of healthy kids through education, empowerment, improved nourishment, and increased daily physical activity, thereby reducing the incidence of childhood obesity and its detrimental health effects” they assist individuals and families with learning the benefits of both growing and cooking their food, as well as the social, ecological, and economic costs associated with our current import/export-driven food system. Specifically, the Seeds of Possibility Program  teaches children to grow their own food, provides lessons in nutrition and stewardship, and allows them to harvest and sample their labors. Research shows that children who participate in the production of their food, whether in gardens or the kitchen, are much more likely to try, and to like, those food options, and vegetable gardens are an excellent opportunity to expand young palates and instill healthy eating habits. Teaching children how to grow their own food and then prepare from scratch meals has been proven to reduce obesity rates and GenH believes that taking children through this process will have long term effects on their health and wellness.

Community Food Project
Name: The gitm Foundation, Kim Keenan and Denise Urycki
Gitm foundationKim Keenan, MS, MSW, LCSW  and Denise Urycki, R.Ph., a Pharmacist, Track Coach, and photographer balance day jobs with a passion to provide creative and innovative solutions to complex social problems as co-directors of The gitm Foundation, a 501(c) 3 formed in 2008.   These solutions are driven by the foundation’s mission “ to teach the importance of using God’s gifts in our everyday lives in predominately nature-rich environments.” Over the last few years, this work has centered on the construction of five community gardens, instruction of fresh-from-the-farm curriculum to over 6 primary schools, the implementation of an at-will urban farmers market, and most recently the introduction of the region’s first mobile fresh food van and Tri County Fresh Food Hub/CSA.  The Tri County Fresh Food Hub strives to commit to bringing the freshest produce to all areas of the Tri-County region (Peoria, Woodford and Tazewell Counties) but concentrates on the food desert regions where families find it difficult to obtain fresh foods.  Produce is raised by 10 local and environmentally conscious farmers, and profits from the purchased CSA Shares go to support educational programming to the food desert areas in the forms of nutrition education from the mobile food vans, local cooking classes in community kitchens, and school-based programming.

Restaurant and Institutions
Name: Heartland Café, Tom Rosenfeld
HeartlandCafeThe Heartland Café is a Chicago landmark.  Opened in 1976, Heartland was a pioneer from the start in serving vegetarian and non-vegeterian dishes in a healthy way.  Their motto, created in 1976 was Healthy Food for the Mind and Body. Heartland is more than a restaurant though. It has served as a launching pad in the neighborhood for political discussion and the arts.  They host live productions of the long running radio show, Live From The Heartland, in their dining room on Saturday mornings which include numerous political guests, including our current President, Barak Obama, and they host a weekly Wednesday night open mic poetry event where several budding musicians and comedians have gotten their start. In short, Heartland is a mission-driven establishment, leading the way on progressive issues, the arts and food.  In 2012, Heartland turned another page in its large book of bold moves.  Tom Rosenfeld, neighborhood resident and seasoned organic farmer (he farms in Michigan under the name Earth First Farms – 49 acres of certified organic apple orchard and vegetable farm 100 miles form Chicago) took the helm at The Heartland as the majority owner, marrying the direct food production on his farm to the restaurant. Heartland is once again at the forefront of the food movement, experimenting with a relationship that is so close that the cooks work with Tom on all aspects of custom food production – from choosing which veggies to grow, choosing specific varieties, strategically selecting planting times and ensuring close dialogue between the farm and the restaurant.

Scaling Up
Name: Pat Stieren, Executive Director of the Illinois Farmers Market Association
Golden Beet-Pat StierenPat Stieren has worked to strengthen Illinois’ local food systems for the better part of 30 years. While working in public administration for the State of Illinois, Pat spent 16 years as the WIC Director (Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children) and administered the Farmers Market Nutrition Program for both WIC and seniors. It was there that she saw the importance of good nutrition and how farmers markets could fill that need. Since her retirement from the State, she has worked with various not-for-profit and governmental agencies in writing and reviewing state and federal food and nutrition related grants. She currently serves as the Executive Director for the Illinois Farmers Market Association (IFMA), a not for profit 501 (c) (3) that has been instrumental in supporting the growth of farmers markets across Illinois by organizing state-wide conferences, regional workshops, and training webinars.  Over the past six years, these trainings have equipped over 900 market organizers, farmers and advocates with information they need to grow local markets. Their online training manual continues to be a critical resource for new market managers to establish markets in their area and increase the availability of local food.  In addition, IFMA has been working to increase Link/SNAP access at farmers’ markets to support local farmers and improve healthy food choices in low-income communities.

Pat’s work with farmers markets and nutrition across the state has been critical in increasing the number of farmers markets from 270 in 2009 to 350 in 2014 and in helping those farmers markets to fulfill their triple bottom line of serving farmers, consumers and host communities with programs and services that make the market an economic, social, and nutritional benefit to their community.

Innovative Farmer
Name: Janet Zintambila, Farmer and Owner of CHJ-Umoja Gardens
JanetJanet Zintambila moved to the United States from Kenya, Africa to pursue a Master’s Degree in Counseling more than 30 years ago. As a student, she chose to spend her mornings volunteering at a nearby farm to stave of homesickness and remind of her time spent tending her family’s large garden back in Africa. After graduation she continued to garden for herself and her family, but noticing a lack of traditional African crops in Illinois, she decided to embark on her own farming operation in order to grow food for African immigrants missing the flavors of their homeland and to share her culture with others. Today she grows one acre of white maize along with various other traditional and not-so-traditional African crops all using organic methods.

Other Varieties:
Darius Jones, McCormick Place Rooftop Farm Coordinator
darisuDarius Jones was selected as the winner of Other Varieties for his inspirational work in changing his life and helping to change the lives of others through urban agriculture. Darius began his work in urban agriculture in 2010 with Windy City Harvest while incarcerated in the Cook County Bootcamp program. Windy City Harvest is a non-profit organization out of the Chicago Botanic Garden’s Urban Agriculture department that provides green job-training for urban and at-risk youth and adults. After his release he began working with Windy City Harvest’s transitional jobs training program and completed a marketing manager internship in 2011. Upon completing the internship, he was hired by Windy City Harvest as the Market Sales assistant, and increased sales by 100% over the course of two years. Today Darius still works for Windy City Harvest but now serves as the McCormick Place Rooftop Farm Coordinator. Apart from being a site for garden instruction for current Windy City Harvest interns and participants, The McCormick Place Rooftop Farm also grows vegetables for use by Savor… Chicago (McCormick Place’s catering and restaurant services provider). Darius’s job entails developing a crop plan in coordination with the Savor…Chicago Chef/staff for the 20,000 sq ft garden, managing the site and two staff members, leading tour groups, leading Windy City Harvest labs on rooftop farming, managing in-door micro-greens production, in-door plant propagation, 2 vermicomposting systems and 3 Beehives while also managing and enforcing a food safety plan and documentation. Apart from his work at McCormick Place, Darius also started his own sustainable agriculture business through a beginning Farmer and Rancher grant award on a ¼ acre plot of land in the southside of Chicago. His farm, “Urban Aggies,” contracts farm produce & herbs for restaurants and businesses in the Chicago land area.

According to Darius, “Working in Urban Agriculture for the last 4 1/2 years has not only taught me to appreciate what I put into my body, but it has also taught me to value myself as a free and able being. Since exiting incarceration in 2010 I have grown exceptionally as a person and as a member of society with guidence and mentorship from people of various classes and different walks of life. I appreciate the opportunity given to me by the Chicago Botanic Garden and hope to continue on this path for many years to come.”

Golden Beet Webtag

Illinois Stewardship Alliance is a nonprofit that promotes environmentally sustainable, economically viable, socially just, local food systems through policy development, advocacy, and education. To keep up to date on Illinois Stewardship Alliance, visit or follow ISA on twitter, @ilstewards.

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