Ian Cheney and Curt Ellis, leading advocates in the sustainable food movement and Yale graduates, are co-recipients of a Heinz Award.
The two 31-year-olds are the youngest-ever recipients of a Heinz Award. They will share an unrestricted $100,000 award, according to the Heinz Family Foundation.
Cheney, a graduate of the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, and Ellis, a Yale College graduate, founded the documentary film production company Wicked Delicate, operate an urban farm called “Truck Farm” in Brooklyn, N.Y., and collaborated on the launch of FoodCorps, a program that introduces sustainable food to schoolchildren.
“Ian Cheney and Curt Ellis are catalysts for change. They have provoked and educated us with humor and storytelling,” said Teresa Heinz, chair of the Heinz Family Foundation.
As best friends and classmates at Yale, Cheney and Ellis were among a group who pioneered a new college dining system, reconnecting students to New England agriculture and sourcing local, sustainable foods for school cafeterias. Following graduation, the duo set out for Iowa to examine the political and agricultural origins of American obesity. The resulting documentary, “King Corn,” directed by Ellis’ cousin Aaron Woolf, received a Peabody Award, was screened by members of Congress as they debated the 2007 Farm Bill, and has helped fuel the national movement to give all Americans access to healthy, sustainable food.
To illustrate that you can grow vegetables anywhere, their whimsical documentary Truck Farm chronicles the transformation of Cheney’s 1986 pickup into an edible, mobile garden. Truck Farm inspired a national fleet of 25 farms-on-wheels, teaching schoolchildren about healthy eating. Most recently, these longtime collaborators helped establish FoodCorps, a national organization spearheaded by Ellis that places recent college graduates in low-income communities that have high rates of obesity for a year of public service aimed at transforming school food. A new documentary, directed by Cheney, will explore the role of food in reviving urban waterfronts.
“Receiving the Heinz Award is a tremendous honor,” said Cheney. “It reinforces our belief that humor, storytelling and fun are crucial parts of making the world a better place.” Ellis added: “It’s a humbling thing to answer your phone and hear Mrs. Heinz on the line saying the Heinz Family Foundation has taken note of our work. It’s a powerful reminder that people across the country are standing up to say that food matters.”
The Heinz Awards honor people who have made extraordinary contributions to the environment—a lifelong commitment of the late U.S. Senator John Heinz. Cheney and Ellis are among 10 recipients recognized for their significant efforts benefitting the environment. Nominations for the Heinz Awards are submitted by invited experts who serve anonymously, and recipients are selected by the board of directors for the Heinz Awards upon recommendation by a blue-ribbon panel of jurors.
In addition to the monetary award, recipients are presented with a medallion inscribed with the image of Senator Heinz on one side and a rendering of a globe passing between two hands on the other. Cheney and Ellis were presented the award at a ceremony in Washington, D.C., in November. For more information about the Heinz Awards or the recipients, visit www.heinzawards.net.