Winner of the Heinz and Peabody Awards
Speaker on Issues of Sustainability
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Curt Ellis is a creator of the hit documentaries King Corn, The Greening of Southie, Big River and Truck Farm, co-founder of the national service organization FoodCorps, and a passionate campaigner for building a world in which service, sustainability and health are celebrated.
Ellis and his longtime collaborator Ian Cheney discovered their unique mix of humor and advocacy in college. They released sheep on the Yale quad, brought farmers and chefs into the classroom, and organized freshman orientation trips to local farms. By graduation, they had found their passion: reconnecting their generation to food.
After college, Ellis and Cheney teamed up with Ellis’ cousin Aaron Woolf to create King Corn, which follows the two friends on a journey to understand where their food comes from… by growing it. In what The Washington Post calls “Required viewing for anyone planning to visit a supermarket, fast-food joint, or their own refrigerator,” the city-slickers learn to drive a combine, cash in on government subsidies, and homebrew high-fructose corn syrup. Their Peabody-winning findings, shared with theatergoers in 60 cities and in a PBS national broadcast, change the way audiences eat.
Ellis next co-created and produced The Greening of Southie (directed by Ian Cheney), a feature documentary that follows Boston’s first residential green building through the stories of the men and women who set out to construct it. Set on the colorful streets of South Boston, The Greening of Southie is a humorous look at how green jobs are turning America’s toughest-looking workers into environmentalists. Broadcast on the Sundance Channel with a DVD release by A&E, The Seattle Times calls it “A balanced but incisive look at a complex issue that affects us all.”
As a Food and Community Fellow with the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, Ellis returned to Iowa in 2009 to produce and direct the 30-minute King Corn sequel, Big River. That film, broadcast on Discovery’s Planet Green, explores chemical farming practices and their impact on the people and places downstream.
Also under the Fellowship, Ellis collaborated with Cheney to develop Truck Farm, a mobile garden in a pickup bed which proves that (so long as you get out of the way of the street cleaners) you really can grow food anywhere. The Brooklyn art and advocacy project has since inspired the development of 25 rolling farms around the country and an award-winning film. Today, the centerpiece of the initiative is the Truck Farm School Garden Contest, an annual competition that challenges students of all ages to grow food in the most creative place they can imagine.
Today, Ellis is busy leading FoodCorps, a national service organization that recruits emerging leaders for a year of full-time service in a high-obesity, limited-resource community of need. Working under the direction of local partners, FoodCorps service members deliver nutrition education, build school gardens, and source farm-fresh food for school meals. FoodCorps currently supports an annual class of more than 200 AmeriCorps members. The program brings vulnerable children knowledge of what healthy food is, engagement with how it grows and tastes, and daily access to its nutrients in their lunches––all while launching a new generation of farmers and public health leaders.
Speaking engagements have Ellis traveling to colleges and conferences throughout the year. In dynamic, media-rich presentations, Curt shares his personal and passionate transition from student to investigator to advocate, and inspires young leaders to find their own voice as change-makers. Audiences on college campuses from Oregon to Abu Dhabi and at venues from Pixar to the Smithsonian to TEDx have left Ellis’ talks inspired.
Curt has appeared on ABC, CBS, NBC and NPR, and in the pages of The New York Times and Washington Post. Ellis is a Draper Richards Kaplan and New Profit Social Entrepreneur, a winner of the prestigious Heinz Award and the GQ Leader Award, and a member of the board of directors of Slow Food USA, the advisory board of the Blue Sky Funders Forum, and the steering committee of Voices for National Service. Traveling from Portland, Oregon, he is available for multimedia lectures, post-film Q&As and workshops on documentary, advocacy, food and health, either alone or with his collaborators.