Stories / Awards, Impact

2018 Leadership Award Winner Ferd Hoefner

Senior Strategic Advisor, National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition

Emily Carrus

April 25, 2018


2018 JBF Leadership Award Winner Ferd Hoefner
Photo: Sarah Hackney

Honored for being actively engaged in federal farm and food advocacy for over 40 years and tirelessly making sure the voices of family farmers and the sustainable agriculture movement are heard on Capitol Hill.

In his new advisory role at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC), Ferd Hoefner has tasked himself with mentoring “the next generation of advocates.” It’s hard to imagine that Hoefner once fell into that category himself. Today, with eight federal farm bills and 40 years of experience behind him, he is one of the most-equipped people in Washington, D.C., to educate and influence future food, farm, and environmental policymakers.

Hoefner’s reputation is well-deserved: starting on Capitol Hill as a congressional intern in the office of a senior member of the House Committee on Agriculture, he worked his way through several positions before being tapped to get NSAC off the ground. “For the first six or seven years, the Washington staff was me, myself, and I,” recalls Hoefner of the early days of this organization, which represents grassroots, regional, and national organizations involved with sustainable food and farming, rural policy, and the environment on Capitol Hill.

Since its founding in 1998, the organization has grown from that one employee to 15, has seen membership swell to 125 organizations, and has made great strides in establishing federal funding and policies that benefit farmers around the nation. The list of policy initiatives that have taken root under his directorship include the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program (SARE), down-payment programs for beginning farmers, conservation stewardship programs, farm-to-school grants, and so much more.

NSAC is celebrating its 30th anniversary, and Hoefner steered the ship throughout those three decades before stepping down to a full-time advisory position in 2016. “We have accomplished more in terms of dollars appropriated, programs created, and changes made at the Department of Agriculture—and elsewhere in the administration—than organizations that are much, much larger and more powerful than we are in terms of money,” he says. “We punch above our weight, as they say.”

Hoefner admits, “policy work can get kind of abstract sometimes,” but the results of his efforts become more palpable and profound when he stays in touch with what’s happening on the ground. “Seeing how farmers can use federal research money to create new innovations that can lead to whole new industries is very exciting,” he says. For example, he enthuses about a young farmer who, thanks to federal grant money, developed expertise in growing heirloom and artisanal varieties of wheat that are capturing the market’s attention. Similarly, he finds reward in stories like that of a farm in Tennessee that was able to avoid bankruptcy and stay in business thanks to funds acquired through the Wetlands Reserve Program, which NSAC helped secure. To date, Hoefner says, three million aggregate acres of wetlands have been restored, benefiting everything from wildlife to drinking water.

“I am inspired by the commitment I see from so many dedicated sustainable farmers and ranchers all over the country to land stewardship and fighting climate change, as well as their passion for their rural communities and institutions,” says Hoefner. “Seeing the life that they lead and how that intersects with the work that I do on policy is what keeps me going.”


The 2018 James Beard Foundation Leadership Award recipients will be honored at a ceremony co-hosted by Hyatt on May 5 in Chicago. Learn more about all our 2018 Leadership Award winners.