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The 2023 Leadership Award Winners

Recognizing six visionaries for their work in creating a better food world

JBF Editors

May 24, 2023


Black tux with James Beard Medallion
Photo: Eliesa Johnson

The James Beard Foundation’s Leadership Awards recognize individuals and/or organizations whose work is helping to create a safer, more healthful, equitable, and sustainable food world. The Awards are given for achievement in developing a global food system that is just, sustainable, and economically viable for both producers and consumers. In 2023, the James Beard Foundation and this program will honor six winners. The Leadership Award winners will be honored at an invite-only ceremony in Chicago on Sunday, June 4, as well as recognized on stage at the Restaurant and Chef Awards ceremony on Monday, June 5 at the Lyric Opera of Chicago.

Jim Embry
Sustainable Communities Network, Slow Food USA, and Ujamaa Cooperative Farming Alliance

Jim Embry has spent his life as a community activist, starting with his work as a civil rights activist when he was just 10 years old. In 2006, he founded the Sustainable Communities Network, a Lexington, Kentucky-based nonprofit dedicated to the development of the theory and practice of sustainable living. He is on the administrative team of Ujamaa Cooperative Farming Alliance, a Black- and Indigenous-led company with a focus on African and African-American crops. He has also been active in Slow Food’s Equity, Inclusion, and Justice Committee and is a seven-time USA delegate to Slow Food’s Terra Madre biannual gathering in Italy. “Because stolen land from Indigenous peoples and stolen labor of African peoples to do agriculture and food work is the foundational contradiction of injustice in our nation, this award bestowed by the James Beard Foundation is a recognition and reaffirmation that resolving this contradiction of injustice deeply embedded in food and agriculture is also the fulcrum point for the much-needed transformation of our society.”

Valerie Horn
CANE Kitchen, Cowan Community Center, and City of Whitesburg Farmers Market

Valerie Horn is the board chair for Community Agricultural Nutritional Enterprises (CANE Kitchen), which offers local farmers a permanent outlet for their produce and provides low-income individuals with access to healthy food from their community. Horn is also the director of Cowan Community Action Group and the board chair for the City of Whitesburg Farmers Market. “I am honored to accept the James Beard Foundation Leadership Award and to bring attention to the efforts of so many in my community of Whitesburg, Kentucky,” said Horn. “The weight of this recognition is a testimonial to the strength of our region that not only validates the work myself and others are doing, but broadens and deepens our network of change.”

Savonala “Savi” Horne
Land Loss Prevention Project

Savi Horne is the executive director of the North Carolina Association of Black Lawyers, Land Loss Prevention Project, which provides legal expertise, community education, and advocacy skills to help farms and rural landowners facing legal, economic and environmental challenges. She currently serves on the boards of the National Family Farm Coalition and the Rural Coalition and is a member of the United States Department of Agriculture, Equity Commission/Agriculture Subcommittee and the National Black Environmental Justice Network. She is a recipient of the 2020 American Bar Association Section of Environment, Energy, and Resources (SEER) Award for Excellence in Environmental, Energy, and Resources Stewardship.

“I accept on behalf of my coworkers and comrades. It is the fruit of our common labor in the intersectional spaces of food justice and land rights that is being honored here today,” said Horne. “This award affirms the right to access to land that is not contaminated with toxins, or in close proximity to polluted spaces that deny a community’s ability to sustain itself and protect its foodways.”

Ira Wallace
Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

Ira Wallace is a writer, gardener, an educator, and worker/owner of the cooperatively managed Southern Exposure Seed Exchange in central Virginia, which provides more than 700 varieties of high-quality, heirloom, and open-pollinated seeds. She currently serves on the board of the Virginia Association for Biological Farming. After 10 years of service, she stepped down from the Organic Seed Alliance in February. Wallace is the author of The Timber Press Guide to Vegetable Gardening in the Southeast and the state-specific series Grow Great Vegetables. She also spends a lot of her time in Acorn, the Virginia community she helped found in the 1990s, which farms more than 50 acres of certified organic land. Wallace also supports and serves as "godmother" to the new Black and Indigenous–led Ujamaa Seeds.

Rowen White
Sierra Seeds

Rowen White is a farmer, seedkeeper, and published author. She is the founder and creative director of Sierra Seeds, a living Indigenous seed bank farm in Nevada City that is centered on values-aligned cultural stewardship of land, seeds, cultural memory and dignified resurgence of a culture of belonging in our seed and foodways. She is also the founder of Indigenous Seed Keepers Network, which promotes Indigenous cultural diversity for future generations by collecting, growing, and sharing heirloom seeds and plants.

“I receive this on behalf of the grand lineage of Mohawk seed keepers and farmers who kept our precious seeds alive in the face of countless adversities so that a living descendent, like myself, could learn from these seeds and cultural teachings and in turn, share these embodied teachings with the next generation of Indigenous farmers.”

Emerging Leadership: The Burgerville Workers Union

The Burgerville Workers Union is an independent collective voice of Burgerville workers, whose goal is to win better working conditions by building union power on the shop floor. The member-run union, a part of the Portland brand of the Industrial Workers of the World, successfully negotiated the country’s first-ever fast-food union contract in 2021. The contract provisions included wage increases, paid vacation time, in-store tipping at all unionized locations, and an end to at-will employment. The 2021 contract applied to five of the fast-food chain’s stores in the Pacific Northwest and has since inspired union action at other food service businesses across the country.

"We feel encouraged that working class people in our industry fighting for a better world are not written out of history and that their achievements spark an inspiration in other workers to demand a seat at the table for safe and healthy workplaces,” said the Burgerville Workers Union. “Just a few years ago, worker power in our industry was few and today we are many. May this award go to the many more tomorrow who will join in the struggle, fight and win a better world for all working folk."

Learn more about the JBF Leadership Awards.

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