“You’ve got this.”

That was my first thought as I reviewed nominations for the University of California’s “30 Under 30” awards. The inaugural awards – sponsored by UC’s Global Food Initiative – recognize young leaders for their extraordinary work helping to solve the global food crisis.

You’ve got this,” I thought, as I contemplated the ways in which their efforts are already transforming the food system.

The winners are from all across the country…and around the globe. Many have connections to the University of California, but many do not. What do they have in common? A deep commitment to improving the food system, incredible creativity and an ability to make things happen.

The range and nature of their work and accomplishments are, quite simply, stunning. They include food production, food access and security, food sourcing, literacy and communication and public policy.

It’s hopeful, forward looking work. The various projects represent innovative thinking and some real breakthroughs in the myriad challenges facing us as we try to sustainably and nutritiously feed a growing world population.

Hunger activist Caroline Cahill, whose work I wrote about several months ago, was thrilled to learn she was one of those selected to receive the award. She is working to alleviate childhood hunger in Alabama as a fellow with Feeding America. When I called to congratulate her, she told me:unspecified

Being selected is an immense honor…it’s a unique opportunity for people in my generation to showcase their work and learn how their endeavors compare to those of their peers. The 30 Under 30 Awards also reinforce the importance of University of California’s Global Food Initiative by highlighting up-and-coming leaders across the food, nutrition and agriculture sectors.”

Chris Massa, who lives near me in the #805, was also selected. Chris is a former Food Corps service member who is now working as a farm-to-school operations specialist and helping Ventura County farmers sell produce to the county’s school districts. Chris thinks school gardens are a vital piece of the food systems puzzle (I agree). He’s building on his experiences by creating a student-led farm at a UC research and extension center. Chris hopes his Salad Bar Farms will take off in Ventura Unified School District.

When Chris and I spoke, he expressed his sense of wonder at being selected, because for him, this work is heart work. He told me:

“Creating a more sustainable food system haUnknowns been my passion over the last 8 years…I am so happy to have this work recognized by the University of California.”

I hope you’ll visit the website to learn more about each winner. Here at the UC Food Observer, we’ve written about a couple of them and look forward to featuring the stories of others in the weeks and months ahead.

As Caroline and I were concluding a wonderful conversation, she offered this observation:

“It has never been more important to bring together innovative thinkers to bridge the gaps in food insecurity, food justice and sustainable agricultural practices to meet the growing needs in the United States and abroad.”

I couldn’t agree more. And bringing people together is one of the main purposes of the 30 Under 30 awards.

The world is full of bad news these days. There are very real and serious challenges facing us. But today, we’re giving you some really good news. It is our hope that by sharing the extraordinary work being done by these inspiring young leaders, that we can amplify their voices, share the models they’re creating and get more people talking about food literacy, food access and security, health and sustainability.

And this may lead to the transformation in the food system we need and hope for.

This list recognizes the work of thirty people…but our hats are off to the thousands and thousands of other young people who are working hard every day to create a more just and sustainable food system. I have every confidence that these young people will continue to change the food system in positive ways. In other words:

“You’ve got this!”