The Niman Ranch Next Generation Foundation, the philanthropic arm of sustainable and humane meat pioneer Niman Ranch, last week awarded scholarships to 48 young people from seven states totaling more than $169,000. Recipients will use the funds to help defray the costs of higher education so they can return to the farm and support rural agriculture communities.

The scholarship recipients were announced during Niman Ranch’s 22nd Annual Hog Farmer Appreciation Award Ceremony. In addition to the scholarship announcements, awards were granted to Niman Ranch hog farmer families recognizing superior meat quality, leadership, ten- and twenty-year partnerships with the company and more. For the first time, Niman Ranch announced a Sustainable Farmer of the Year award to recognize outstanding efforts to protect the environment. The inaugural recipients of this honor are the Nuessmeier Family Farm located in southern Minnesota. The Nuessmeiers, 19-year Niman Ranch partners, raise pigs outdoors, grow organic crops using sustainable practices including crop rotation and buffer strips, and have dedicated pollinator habitat among many other environmentally conscious practices on their diversified farm.

“We are so grateful for the generosity of the many people and companies that stepped up and donated to our scholarship program during a challenging year to support this important cause,” said Drew Calvert, Executive Director of the Niman Ranch Next Generation Foundation. “We had more applicants than ever before for our scholarships and thankfully our community stepped up with our largest donations in the Foundation’s history to help these hard-working young people.”

The award ceremony was the culmination of six weeks of virtual events to celebrate sustainable farming and Niman Ranch’s hog farmer community. Niman Ranch welcomed numerous luminaries including celebrated author and activist Michael Pollan, best known for his groundbreaking book The Omnivore’s Dilemma, and animal welfare expert Dr. Temple Grandin to discuss resilient food and farming systems and how we can better support sustainable agriculture. In addition to virtual thought leader panel discussions, Niman Ranch organized culinary experiences to raise funds for the Next Generation Foundation. World-renowned seven-Michelin Star Chef Thomas Keller and James Beard-Nominated Chef Kelly Whitaker led interactive virtual culinary experiences as home chefs cooked along, learning tips from the pros with Niman Ranch pork chops, charcuterie and other specialty items.

Recognizing the challenges of 2020 and the pandemic, Niman Ranch also announced a $50,000 independent restaurant relief fund at the Award Ceremony. This commitment builds on Niman Ranch’s previous food service industry relief efforts including donations of more than 50,000 meals to restaurants across the country to help feed those negatively impacted by Covid-19.

“2020 has made it abundantly clear that community and trusted partnerships are crucial,” said Chris Oliviero, Niman Ranch General Manager. “At Niman Ranch, we know that our community of farmers, customers and partners are all dependent on each other’s success for their own. I am so thankful that each of us has stepped up to help one another and the next generation of farmers during an incredibly difficult time.”

Niman Ranch’s network of more than 750 independent farmers and ranchers have seen stability with their program as the nation’s food system underwent unprecedented difficulties with supply and demand. Thanks to Niman Ranch’s resilient model and a farmer-focused program, there has been an increase in interest with nearly 70 new farmers in the queue to join the well-respected brand.

All sessions for this year’s Niman Ranch Hog Farmer Appreciation Celebration were recorded and can be viewed here:

Source: Niman Ranch