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Eat Local Now! » Jeff Fairhall Local Food Hero Award

Jeff Fairhall Local Food Hero Award

About the Award

Eat Local Now! established the Jeff Fairhall Local Food Hero Award in 2008 in honor of Jeff Fairhall, a great local food hero in his own right, to honor other local food heroes who carry on Jeff’s legacy. (Jeff passed away in September 2007.)

To say that Jeff Fairhall embodied the spirit of the ultimate Local Food Hero almost seems inadequate. The least we can do is to remember that spirit by this award, and to foster it by honoring it in others. To that end, Eat Local Now! is committed to presenting the Local Food Hero Award annually.

To nominate a Local Food Hero, please download the nomination form (PDF. Due Sept 23, 2011.) or contact

About Jeff Fairhall

Jeff Fairhall Photo

Jeff was a visionary who saw promise in things other people didn’t see, said his mother, Edie. After working several years for natural food retail and wholesale operations in Colorado and North Carolina, Jeff returned to Seattle in 1988 to launch the Essential Sandwich Company. What most us now call wraps, these sandwiches were the first of their kind - an easy, grab-and-go meal made from organic, whole ingredients wrapped in a tortilla-like flatbread.

In short order, he was distributing 10,000 sandwiches per week to 220 retail accounts around Seattle, including QFC and Safeway, as well as Continental and Horizon airlines, and even the Microsoft campus. In essence, he pushed open to door for natural foods into the larger corporate world. “Seattle is a unique market for this type of food, where we could be accepted into the mainstream stores of the area,” Jeff said in a 1993 Seattle Times interview, long before most of us realized it. Today, the Essential Sandwich concept is being replicated by dozens of companies.

In 1994, Jeff started the Essential Baking Company with George dePasquale, and very quickly it was out-pacing Essential Sandwich by two and three-fold, eventually taking over the historic Oroweat Bakery in Fremont, where it remains today. While at the time, there were already a handful of good artisan bakeries in Seattle, Essential brought artisan breads to the everyman, putting them front and center in grocery stores throughout greater-Seattle, and introducing many to one of the first certified organic foods they could find at many of these stores.

In 2005, Jeff was the first investor in Theo Chocolate, which is housed in the historic Redhook Brewery building in Fremont, a building he purchased in part to help preserve the historic character of that neighborhood. Theo was the first chocolate manufacturer in the US to make certified organic, fair trade chocolate from bean to bar.

Jeff drew other visionaries to work with him at Essential, and they, in turn produced even more great Seattle natural food companies, such as Mama Lil’s, Field Roast and Tall Grass Bakery. He brought in very talented people and would share his facilities and resources to help other people whose products didn’t naturally fit into his product line, said Mark Musick, a longtime friend and colleague.

In 1988, Jeff was a founding sponsor of the Seattle Tilth Harvest Fair, and in 1994, he sponsored Wendell Berry’s keynote address at Washington Tilth Porducer’s 20th Anniversary Conference. In 2002, he served as Chair of the Washington State Dept of Agriculture Organic Advisory Board, and in 2003 he was elected to the Board of Washington Tilth Producers. Jeff also served on the board of the Washington Sustainable Food & Farming Network.

2010 Local Food Hero Award

2009 presented the third Jeff Fairhall Local Food Hero award to Aviva Furman for her work in building vibrant local economies through community-resource[d] food. Her commitment to projects such as Community Harvest of Southwest Seattle and the Community Orchard of West Seattle are two shiny examples of Aviva propels local food initiatives for all.

2009 Local Food Hero Award

2009 presented the second Jeff Fairhall Local Food Hero award to Richard Conlin for proving a consistent voice in the Seattle City Council promoting local food, urban farming, and other sustainable practices.

2008 Local Food Hero Award

2008 presented the first Jeff Fairhall Local Food Hero award to Viki Sonntag for her outstanding work in local food activism in the Puget Sound region, and the implications that her research holds for the global community.

Viki Sonntag is a practitioner/activist/researcher in alternative economics and founding director of EcoPraxis, a non-profit that works collaboratively with small businesses and community-based organizations in putting the vision of sustainable community economies into practice.

Her current projects include grassroots research on the local food economy and building collective resources for social justice and sustainability initiatives. She is also a Buddhist whose spiritual practice informs her work, seeking to wake people up to over-consumption and social inequality as root causes of the looming ecological/economic collapse.

Why Local Linkages Matter

Spending involves a choice about the kind of future we want to have. The report Why Local Linkages Matter: Findings from the Local Food Economy Study explains why we should care about our spending choices when it comes to sustainability.

The report describes the dollar flows and economic linkages of food-related businesses in the Central Puget Sound region of Washington State. A model of a relationship-based economy emerges from the study. The model says that the more dollars circulating locally, the greater the number of community linkages and the greater their strength. The research indicates that more and stronger linkages provide for a healthier, more diverse and resilient local economy.

Simply put, “locally directed buying and selling connects the community’s resources to its needs resulting in relationships that serve to restore the land and regenerate community.”

What we are witnessing in the emergence of the local food economy is changing the idea of what makes for healthy economies – from growth based on commoditizing resources to community stewardship of resource flows.

The report can be found at: