Each year, we honor farmer, community, and business leaders who serve as examples for advancing sustainable agriculture through innovation and collaboration. I’m pleased to share this year’s award recipients.
Masa Cooperativa is a worker-owned and majority immigrant-operated cooperative based in Philadelphia that mills corn grown in partnership with local organic farms to produce masa–a maize dough used to make popular foods, such as tortillas, tamales, arepas, and other staples of Latin American cuisine. Their process is based on ancestral techniques from the indigenous people of the Americas, honoring the cultural importance and nutritional value of corn masa.
The Cooperativa’s goal is to raise the standards of commercially available masa by providing wholesome, organic masa grown and made locally. They produce masa both for wholesale to restaurants and for retail within the community.
As a business that is majority immigrant-owned and utilizes a worker-owned model that promotes wealth redistribution and non-extractive financial management, all while serving surrounding communities and working across the rural-urban divide, Masa Cooperativa is an inspiration to other businesses. They challenge us to reimagine our food system–positing that it is not only the product that delivers exceptional taste, nutrition, and value to the community, but also the process itself–and that both are deserving of celebration.
Truelove Seeds is a farm-based seed company offering culturally important and open-pollinated vegetable, herb, and flower seeds. They have been a collaborative project since the beginning, now involving 75 growers who produce seeds for their catalog along with a team of staff and apprentices growing, cleaning, organizing, and shipping the seeds from their farm and office, each contributing and stewarding ancestral seeds and stories along the way.
Co-Founders Owen Taylor and Chris Bolden-Newsome launched their first seed catalog in 2017 and have since expanded to include mentorships, apprenticeships, and a wide array of community programs, including seed-saving workshops, seed exchanges, and local farm partnerships. Truelove is a training partner in Pasa’s Diversified Vegetable Pre-Apprenticeship, graduating three to five individuals each season. They are passionate about educating young farmers on how to save seeds that are culturally relevant to them. Recently, Truelove collaborated with Pasa to facilitate our first fully bilingual event at Sankofa Community Farm at Bartram’s Garden.
It takes a village to raise a community-based seed company, and Truelove would not be complete without its people! Maebh Aguilar is the Seed Collection Manager and self-proclaimed “office human.” Miki Palchick helps manage the farm and apprenticeship program. Zainab Muhammad fills most of the orders, manages packet filling in the winter, and spearheads the fermentation station and farm seed room organization in the summer. Hannah Thompson, Sarah Kim, and Chesa Thai knock out farm tasks and packet-filling projects. Chesa is also building a new database to keep the seed collection, germination tests, and crop plans organized. Sara Taylor has been a web and graphic designer, bookkeeper, and business manager.
The name “Truelove” honors the memories of Leticia Truelove, Owen and Sara’s maternal great-great-grandmother. Chris and Owen believe that seed saving is an act of true love for ancestors and for the collective future. We are grateful for Truelove’s contributions to the Pasa community and are humbled by their dedication to stewarding ancestral crops, as well as their heart for mentoring aspiring farmers and community members on their journey to reconnect with their roots through diasporic seeds.
Chester County, Pennsylvania
Sue Miller co-manages Birchrun Hills Farm, a first-generation dairy farm with an on-site creamery in Chester County, about an hour northwest of Philadelphia.
Sue fell in love with taking care of cows when she met her husband, Ken Miller. Since 2006, the Millers have been committed to dairy farming using conservation-minded methods. Their award-winning, handcrafted raw milk cheeses have become staples in local restaurants, farmers markets, breweries, and farm shows. In 2023, the Chester County Commissioners awarded the Miller family the Farmers of the Year award, acknowledging their dynamic business model, commitment to sustainable farming, and local food system advocacy.
Many Pasa staff members hold a deeply personal admiration for Sue. Pasa’s Farm Bill Campaign Organizer Lindsey Shapiro, shared, “When I was a baby farmer, I took my mom for a tour around our farmers market and brought her to my favorite cheese stand to meet the proprietor, Sue Miller. Sue said to my mom, ‘You should be so proud that your daughter’s a farmer.’ That moment has always stuck with me–I think it exemplifies Sue’s dedication to supporting her peers in this industry and helping us navigate the challenges of a life in farming.”
Sue previously served as a Pasa Board member from 2008 to 2017 and is remembered for her insightful contributions. She notably articulated the unique challenges faced by dairy farmers, highlighting Pasa’s role in representing a dairy community aiming to balance the health of the farmer, animals, community, and ecosystem. We are proud to be presenting this award to Sue Miller as a tribute to her commitment to environmental stewardship and in gratitude for her leadership in this community.
Lycoming County, Pennsylvania
Chef Mike Ditchfield has dedicated his career to educating the next generation of chefs. He upholds that the farmers he works closely with are the primary sources connecting him to high-quality food, and relays the same philosophy to his students–teaching them how to source ingredients sustainably and how to prepare cuisines that honor those ingredients.
Recently retired from Penn College of Technology, his classes often involved trips to organic farms, trout nurseries, and wineries, as well as food demonstrations at local growers markets and harvest dinners. For many years, he played a crucial role in showcasing sustainable products by bringing students into the Pasa Conference kitchen to process whole birds, prepare farm-fresh produce, and create tasty dishes for thousands of attendees.
In the words of Pasa’s Associate Director for Farmer Training & Development, Dan Dalton, “When Chef Ditchfield speaks about food service, farming, and the environment, he is nothing short of compelling. He’s a true community advocate, representing so well what Pasa has been and aims to be within the food system.”
A favorite on the Pennsylvania Farm Show PA Preferred Culinary Connection stage, Chef Ditchfield’s relatable style and dedication to healthy, whole foods has made a notable difference in the lives of his students, the farmers he partners with, and foodies throughout the region.
Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania
Lifetime Pasa members John and Sukey Jamison have dedicated their lives to improving the health of their land and community by conservation grazing and supplying their local market with high-quality lamb cuts. When the lack of access to meat processing facilities proved challenging to their business, The Jamison Farm, they built their own USDA processing plant to serve their own needs, as well as those of their neighbors in Western Pennsylvania. Self-proclaimed high school sweethearts, the Jamisons authored Coyotes in the Pasture & Wolves at the Door: Stories and Recipes from Our Farm to Your Table, in which the couple shares the knowledge they have gained through their many years of sheep farming.
John served on the Pasa Board from 2004 to 2013 and is remembered for his witty and joyful contributions, challenging us to think holistically about the impacts of our decisions on the lives of farmers and their businesses. After John was diagnosed a year ago with normal pressure hydrocephalus, the couple doubled down on what has become a remarkable journey to recovery for John, with Sukey by his side. We are happy to report John is back on his tractor again!
We are so grateful for the many contributions the Jamisons have made to our community and for the countless ways they have touched the lives of fellow farmers, chefs, and customers along the way!
Louisa County, Virginia
Ira Wallace is a gardener, teacher, and author who manages Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, a cooperatively owned seed company. Ira played a role in the making of the 2014 film Open Sesame: The Story of Seeds, a compelling documentary highlighting the obstacles that some of the most notable non-GMO seed proponents face in their quest to keep seeds from being appropriated as intellectual property and controlled by powerful entities. She has served as a Board member for the Virginia Association for Biological Farming, Open Source Seed Initiative, and Organic Seed Alliance. She was the recipient of the 2016 Craig Claiborne Lifetime Achievement Award, the 2019 American Horticultural Society‘s Paul Ecke Jr. Commercial Award, and the 2019 Organic Educator Award. In 2023, Ira received the coveted James Beard Foundation’s Leadership Award.
Ira is known for her unrelenting support of new seed companies, uplifting them and providing them with a platform to share their stories. She is unwavering in her commitment to reducing competition, encouraging young farmers, and fighting for land access. She calls Acorn Community–an intentional egalitarian community on 72 acres in Mineral, Virginia, that supports radical sharing and encourages personal responsibility–home, where she is considered the godmother of cultural seed preservation.
Since 2012, Southern Exposure Seed Exchange has been a steadfast business partner in our Conference trade show, and for most of those years, Ira has also shared her knowledge with our community as a Conference speaker. Furthermore, many of our young farmers and seed savers have sought her counsel and attribute much success to her fortitude, guidance, and wisdom. We’re so grateful to Ira for her contributions to our community.