The Food Project's Leadership Award recognizes the outstanding contributions of change makers within the food movement whose work and vision have had a demonstrable impact on our communities, food infrastructure, and environment.

2017 Leadership award recipient

2016 Leah profile (2).JPG

Leah Penniman is an educator, farmer, and food justice activist. Leah got her start in farming as a teenager at The Food Project and since then has worked at the Farm School, co-managed Many Hands Organic Farm, co-founded YouthGROW, and worked with farmers in Ghana, Haiti, and Mexico.

In 2011, Leah co-founded Soul Fire Farm with her partner Jonah Vitale-Wolff. Soul Fire Farm is a family farm in Grafton, NY committed to ending racism and injustice in our food system. The farm produces food for families living in food apartheid neighborhoods and provides programming to train and empower Black, Latinx, and Indigenous growers, youth, and activist farmers. Since its inception, Soul Fire Farm has hosted hundreds of youth and adults for educational workshops and programs, delivered thousands of pounds of affordable, farm-fresh food to families living in food apartheid neighborhoods, and presented many lectures and publications to share Soul Fire Farm's models. Under Leah's leadership, Soul Fire Farm has grown into a national leader in the movement for food sovereignty.

Leah presents at conferences nationwide and was the 2016 Keynote Speaker at the Northeast Organic Farming Association Summer Conference. She has been recognized nationally by the Fullbright Distinguished Teaching Fellowship, Andrew Goodman Hidden Heroes Award, Presidential Award for Excellence in Teaching, New Technology Network Curriculum Excellence Award, the Wholesome Thinking Fellowship, and the NY Food Policy Council 40 Under 40, among others.

We are honored to welcome Leah back to The Food Project and recognize her accomplishments as a leader and change-maker in the food justice field. You can learn more about Leah and her work at Soul Fire Farm here.

2016 Leadership Award Recipient 

Frank Martinez Nocito is a nutrition science and policy professional with a diverse background that has ranged from local food access to global health initiatives. After earning a Master of Science degree from the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University, Frank worked at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations in Rome, Italy for five years, where he focused on human nutrient requirements and public-private partnerships. Returning stateside, for most of the past decade his work has focused on improving access to healthy food options for vulnerable populations in the state of Massachusetts, utilizing his technical competencies in food systems, public health nutrition, nutrition education, and food policy.

He joined the Massachusetts Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA) in 2011 as the Director of the Healthy Incentives Pilot (HIP), for which his exemplary service was acknowledged with a USDA Certificate of Appreciation by the Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services (FNS). Post-HIP he continued his work at DTA in the SNAP Unit, being responsible for the statewide management and technical support for initiatives related to healthy incentives. He also serves as the Project Director for the Healthy Incentives Program, a statewide initiative funded through a recent USDA-NIFA FINI Grant Program award, which builds upon the success of the pilot. Frank collaborates with numerous nonprofit organizations, SNAP retailers, and community stakeholders across the state.

He also holds a culinary degree from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY, and undergraduate degrees in Nutrition and Anthropology from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Frank lives in Western Massachusetts with his wife, Jenny, and their two daughters.

2015 Leadership award recipient

Byron Hurt is an award-winning documentary filmmaker, published writer, anti-sexist activist, and lecturer. Hurt is also the former host of the Emmy-nominated series, "REEL WORKS with BYRON HURT."  His documentary, "Hip-Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes" premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and was later broadcast on the PBS series Independent Lens.

The former Northeastern University football quarterback was also a founding member of the Mentors in Violence Prevention (MVP) program, the leading college-based rape and domestic violence prevention initiative for college and professional athletics. Hurt also served as an Associate Director of the first gender violence prevention program in the United States Marine Corps.

Byron's writings have been published in several anthologies, including Michael Eric Dyson’s “Know What I Mean?” Kevin Powell’s “The Black Male Handbook,” and Shira Tarrant’s “Men Speak Out.” In the media, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The L.A. Times, O Magazine, Mother Jones, the Atlanta Journal Constitution, The Philadelphia Tribune, The Final Call,, NPR, CNN, MSNBC, Access Hollywood, MTV, BET, ABC News World Tonight, Black Enterprise, C-Span, and many other outlets have featured Byron’s work.

Byron's latest film, "Soul Food Junkies" is critically acclaimed and won the CNN Best Documentary award at the American Black Film Festival and Best Documentary at the Urbanworld Film Festival in New York City.  The film made its national television premiere on PBS’ Emmy award-winning series, Independent Lens in January 2013. "Soul Food Junkies" is currently touring the country and playing in front of large audiences and is receiving rave reviews.

A member of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Incorporated, Hurt’s next film is entitled, Hazing: How Badly Do You Want In?
Hurt is also on Facebook and Twitter @byronhurt.


Our second recipient was Will Allen, Founder and CEO of Growing Power, Inc. – a non-profit center for urban agricultural training and production. The organization has grown significantly and has proved that local food systems can provide help for troubled youth, dismantle racism, create jobs, bring urban and rural communities closer together, and improve public health. Will is recognized as one of the country’s preeminent practitioners of urban agriculture and was named to Time magazine’s list of “The 100 Most Influential People in the World” in May 2010.


Frances Moore Lappé is the author or co-author of 18 books including the three-million copy Diet for a Small Planet. She is the cofounder of three organizations, including Food First: The Institute for Food and Development Policy and, more recently, the Small Planet Institute, a collaborative network for research and popular education seeking to bring democracy to life, which she leads with her daughter Anna Lappé. Frances and her daughter have also cofounded the Small Planet Fund, which channels resources to democratic social movements worldwide. Her most recent work, released by Nation Books in September 2011, is EcoMind: Changing the Way We Think to Create the World We Want, winner of a silver medal from the Independent Publisher Book Awards in the Environment/Ecology/Nature category.

In 1987 Frances received the Right Livelihood Award (considered an “Alternative Nobel”) “for revealing the political and economic causes of world hunger and how citizens can help to remedy them.” Her first book, Diet for a Small Planet, has sold three million copies and is considered “the blueprint for eating with a small carbon footprint since long before the term was coined,” wrote J.M. Hirsch, Associated Press. In 2008 Diet for a Small Planet was selected as one of 75 Books by Women Whose Words Have Changed the World by members of the Women’s National Book Association in observance of its 75th anniversary and was named by Gourmet Magazine as one of 25 people (including Thomas Jefferson, Upton Sinclair, and Julia Child), whose work has changed the way America eats.

Frances appears frequently as a public speaker and on radio, and is a regular contributor to Huffington Post and Alternet. Articles featuring or written by Frances have also appeared in O: The Oprah Magazine, Harper’s, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Nation, People, and more.