The Niman Ranch Next Generation Foundation, the philanthropic arm of sustainable agriculture pioneer Niman Ranch, recently awarded 39 scholarships totaling more than $140,000 through its annual scholarship program. Scholarships were presented to students from Niman Ranch’s network of independent farm and ranch families during its 21 st annual Farmer Appreciation Dinner in Des Moines, IA, with more than 500 people in attendance. The scholarships are designed to support the next generation of sustainable farmers and agriculture leaders and to help rural communities thrive.

The 2019 Niman Ranch Next Generation Foundation scholarship recipients. (Photo: Business Wire)

The 39 recipients had diverse interests and majors—from animal science to environmental studies and business—and hailed from nine different states. While each awardee had their own unique passion and career goals, all were committed to supporting rural communities and looked to their personal experience being part of a Niman Ranch farm family as foundational to their work ethic and outlook on life.

The Foundation’s two highest awards—the Phyllis Willis Pioneer Award and the David Serfling Scholarship—were awarded to Brenden Kleiboeker and Kodi Bundermann, respectively. Brenden is a fourth-generation farmer who is pursuing a major in Animal Science and minor in Plant Science from University of Missouri, Columbia. Brenden credits Niman Ranch with helping him become the person he is today and looks forward to returning to the family farm and advocating for traditional sustainable agriculture. Kodi hails from rural Minnesota and currently studies Animal Science at North Dakota State University. She grew up helping her grandparents raise hogs for Niman Ranch and hopes to return home to the farm and work as a livestock nutritionist and volunteer with local agriculture groups like 4H and Future Farmers of America. “I want to help young people succeed and give my time and energy back to the programs that shaped me into the person I am today,” explained Kodi on her plan to give back to the community.

Americans are carrying more student loan debt than ever before, affecting two-thirds of college graduates today. A recent National Young Farmers Coalition survey found that paying for college is a key obstacle for young farmers, with nearly 30 percent of respondents not pursuing farming due to debt. For every farmer under 35 years of age, there are 6 over 65.

“This cohort of scholarship recipients is an incredibly impressive group of emerging leaders. We look forward to seeing their contributions to rural communities and efforts to support sustainable farming traditions,” said Drew Calvert, Executive Director of the Next Generation Foundation.

For the first time ever, the Next Generation Foundation awarded a Women in Food scholarship, in partnership with leading culinary organizations Women Chefs and Restaurateurs and the James Beard Foundation’s Women Leadership Program, to support future women chefs and culinary leaders who will champion food produced sustainably and responsibly. The first recipient of this scholarship was Summer Worthington, who grew up raising pigs with her family and is currently enrolled in the Professional Chef program at Mausi Sebess Escuela de Cocina in Buenos Aires, Argentina, one of the premier culinary schools in Latin America. “The restaurant industry and agriculture are inherently interwoven,” said Summer. “By sourcing sustainably produced ingredients we inspire others to do the same, bringing back a connection between the people and the farmers who grow their food.”

Other 2019 Next Generation Scholarship recipients are Alexandra Schmidt, Alison Knutson, Alyssa Frederick, Amber Miles, Andrew Haan, Ashlyn Stuckey, Brooke Boyle, Cameron Boyle, Carter Boyle, Claire Nuessmeier, Courtney Butterfield, Dane Stuckey, Dylan Frederick, Elizabeth Scheer, Elle Findlay, Emilie Tamblyn, Hunter Engelbrecht, Isabelle Stewart, John Gadient, Jon Handzus, Josephine Hamilton, Justin Reding, Kallin Crile, Kenyon O’Brien, Kody McCleary, Lizzie Schuetz, Madeline Althoff, Michaela Schmidt, Nathan Hutton, Rachel Boros, Rebecca Althoff, Shania Knutson, Shyann Schultz, Thomas Parsons, Trace Tebay and Wyatt Schmidt.

The Next Generation Scholarship is made possible by donations from Niman Ranch’s business partners and employees, which includes chefs and food distributors, grocers, transportation companies, publishers and individuals. Businesses raise funds through a wide range of events, sales from special menu items and private contributions.

The Niman Ranch Next Generation Foundation helps support young farmers and agriculture leaders who are committed to keeping rural communities thriving. Follow the Next Generation Foundation on Facebook and Instagram.