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Natural Resources Defense Council honored the Coalition of Immokalee Workers at its annual Growing Green awards in San Francisco on Wednesday.

The New York-based council called the grass-roots farmworker group “remarkable food visionaries for their trailblazing work to make our food systems healthier and more sustainable.” Though the council, one of the largest environmental nonprofits, has long advocated for food safety and sustainability, it was the first time it gave an award for food justice.

“You can’t have sustainability without addressing the workers’ issues,” said Jonathan Kaplan, the council’s director of food and agriculture.

The coalition’s Campaign for Fair Food is modernizing working conditions in Florida’s fields while improving wages for tomato workers, among the lowest-paid in the nation.

Already, 10 major corporations, including McDonald’s, Sodexo and Whole Foods, have signed the agreement, which raises tomato harvesters’ wages a penny for each pound picked and could mean an increase from about $10,000 to about $17,000 annually. It also includes a cooperative complaint resolution system, a health and safety program and worker-to-worker education. Starting this season, the agreement is in effect on more than 90 percent Florida’s tomato farms.

Kaplan predicts other agricultural sectors will follow suit.

“This can be a model for the rest of the industry,” he says. “There’s a business case to be made here: An inspired, well-motivated workforce works better.”

The award comes with a $2,500 prize and kudos from a panel of judges that included Michael Pollan, author of “The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” and Myra Goodman, co-founder of Earthbound Farm. Josh Viertel, president of Slow Food USA.

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