According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), there are more than 570 million farms in the world and global trade in agriculture totals more than US$1 trillion annually. There’s no question that farmers are feeding the world, but many lack the investment, resources, education, and attention they need.
Fortunately, from Uganda to Hong Kong, farmers are finding ways to farm in more environmentally, economically, and socially sustainable ways, improving the planet while providing food for their communities. They cultivate community gardens, educate citizens about farming, distribute fresh produce, and support fellow farmers. Hailing from the four corners of the world, these are 10 farmers you need to know.
Becky Balderstone (United Arab Emirates): Since 2011, Becky Balderstone has been running Ripe Organic, the farm network, store, and community organization she founded in the United Arab Emirates. Balderstone started the business as a delivery service for produce boxes to support organic farmers, but it has since grown in scope. Ripe Organic now has its own farm, runs a series of farmers markets and brick-and-mortar grocery stores, and leads community initiatives such as school vegetable gardens and menu collaboration with chefs.
Ben Burkett (United States): Ben Burkett is a fourth-generation farmer who grows vegetables on 300 acres in southern Mississippi, but he is also a tireless advocate for family farms. He is the President of the National Family Farm Coalition, the director of the Mississippi Association of Cooperatives, and a member of the Community Food Security Coalition and Via Campesina. Burkett won a James Beard Foundation Leadership Award in 2014 for his lifelong support of the family farm and his food access advocacy.
Jess and Matt Fealy (Australia): Blue Sky Produce is a family-owned farm producing mangoes, avocados, passion fruit, and limes. Jess and Matt Fealy and their children moved across Australia in 2012 to start Blue Sky in Far North Queensland. Matt Fealy’s family is in the farming business, which inspired Jess and Matt to leave the city and start their orchard. They are passionate about sustainable farming, and they implement integrated pest management to promote populations of beneficial insects.
Thomas Harttung (Denmark): Thomas Harttung is the Co-Founder of Aarstiderne, an organic produce and meal box delivery program that now supplies more than 45,000 customers across Denmark and Sweden with fresh, nutritious food. He also has a 1,8000-acre biodynamic estate in Jutland, Denmark. In addition, he serves as the Chair of the Trustees for the Sustainable Food Trust, a nonprofit committed to building a food system that causes the least possible harm to humans and the environment.
Tengiwe Cristina Kaba (South Africa): As the Executive Director of Abalimi: The People’s Garden Center, Tengiwe Cristina Kaba teaches Cape Town residents effective urban gardening strategies. She also founded Harvest of Hope, which is a community-supported agriculture initiative that sells organic vegetables in a way that provides farmers with a secure, fair income while offering families, schools, and restaurants a reasonable price. Kaba was recognized as South Africa’s Woman of the Year in 2001.
Michael Leung (Hong Kong): Michael Leung is the founder and creative director of HK Farm, which grows organic produce on the rooftops of Hong Kong. The farm collaborates with local schools, businesses, and organizations to teach the public about the benefits of rooftop farming and locally produced food. Leung developed an interest in rooftop farming while living in New York and working at Brooklyn Grange. He also runs HK Honey, a cooperative of Hong Kong beekeepers.
Márcio Lopes de Freitas (Brazil): Márcio Lopes de Freitas is the President of the Organization of Brazilian Cooperatives and Vice President of the Americas Region for the International Cooperative Agricultural Organisation. He grows coffee and organic vegetables and raises cattle on a farm near his hometown of Patrocinio Paulista in São Paulo. Through his work with cooperative organizations, he aims to collaboratively improve the lives and livelihoods of farmers around the world.
Robert Morris and Gigi Pontejos-Morris (Philippines): Robert Morris and Gigi Pontejos-Morris own MoCa Family Farm in the Philippines. They purchased the farm as a traditional mango orchard but soon converted it into a certified agri-tourism destination. This meant equipping the property with a house, guest quarters, a test kitchen, a classroom, and a trail system. They now operate several small-scale businesses under their farm umbrella to remain profitable. They juggle farm operations, sales, value-added product development, and hospitality and entertainment events.
Edie Mukiibi (Uganda): In addition to serving as the Vice President of Slow Food International, Edie Mukiibi spearheads the organization’s 10,000 Gardens in Africa project, which aims to engage food-insecure youth in sustainable food and agriculture by creating 10,000 gardens across the continent. The project started as the 1,000 Gardens Project, but once that goal was achieved, Slow Food expanded their efforts. Before he was appointed Vice President, Mukiibi co-founded the Developing Innovations in School and Community Cultivation project in 2006, which also develops community gardens.
Denise O’Brien (United States): Denise O’Brien has been a farmer in southern Iowa for the past several decades, growing fruits and vegetables and raising organic chickens and turkeys with her husband. In 1997, she founded the Women Food & Ag Network to serve as a platform for women to share information, connections, and support to be successful in sustainable agriculture. She was awarded the 2005 Practical Farmers of Iowa Sustainable Agriculture Award and the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Iowa Farmer’s Union.