Past winners include Michelle Obama and Trader Joe's founder Doug Rauch.

By Bridget Hallinan
March 19, 2019
Courtesy of the James Beard Foundation.

Last week, the James Beard Foundation announced two major awards ahead of its awards gala on May 6; the Lifetime Achievement Award, given to chef Patrick O’Connell, and the Humanitarian of the Year Award, awarded to non-profit Giving Kitchen. The past few weeks overall have been busy for the foundation, with additional announcements for the 2019 semifinalists, 2019 Smart Catch Leader, and the 2019 Design Icon. Today, it added the Leadership Awards recipients to the roundup, which celebrates people in the industry who help create a “healthier, safer, and more suitable and sustainable food system." Past winners include Michelle Obama, Doug Rauch, and Navina Khanna—the 2019 honorees are The Pioneer Valley Workers’ Center, Cornelius Blanding, Leah Penniman, Sean Sherman, and Anim Steel. 

The awards will be given out on May 5 at the ninth annual Leadership Awards ceremony in Chicago—Gail Simmons will be this year’s host. And now, to meet the honorees: 

The Pioneer Valley Workers’ Center

PVWC organizes grassroots campaigns for food chain workers’ rights, and works to build power with low wage and immigrant workers throughout Western Massachusetts, according to the site. The organization is coordinated by the Mujeres Guerreras, an all-women, five-member collective.   

Cornelius Blanding

Blanding is the Executive Director of the Federation of Southern Cooperatives / Land Assistance Fund, a non-profit that strives toward fostering “self-supporting communities through cooperative economic development" and assists with land retention and development "especially for African Americans, but essentially for all family farmers," according to the site.

Leah Penniman

Penniman is the co-executive director and program manager of Soul Fire Farm, a community farm she co-founded in 2011 that strives to end racism and injustice in the food system. There are several ways Soul Fire seeks to establish community food sovereignty—training farmer activists through the BIPOC Fire program (Black-Indigenous-People of Color Farming in Relationship with Earth); providing weekly doorstep deliveries of in-season produce, fresh eggs, and more; and collaborating with food justice networks to advance systemic change. To learn more, check out the site. 

Sean Sherman

Sherman, Oglala Lakota, is the founder & CEO of The Sioux Chef, a catering and food education company committed to revitalizing and reclaiming Native American cuisine, and making it accessible to “as many communities as possible.” The staff comprises of team members from several different indigenous tribes, who work as chefs, foragers, food preservationists, food truckers, and more, according to the site. Sherman also won a JBA for his book, The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen, in 2018.

Anim Steel 

Anim Steel is the co-founder and executive director of Real Food Generation, an organization pushing back against the “Big Food” agenda and white supremacy in the food system. Its three main projects include the Real Food Challenge, a student-driven campaign to get universities to buy more local and sustainable food; the Real Meals campaign, which “opposes deals between cafeteria corporations and the Big Food corporations,” according to a statement; and the Uprooted & Rising movement, which aims to end university support for Big Food corporations and white supremacy in the food system.

For more updates, winners, and announcements leading up to the James Beard Awards on May 6, check out our story here.

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