CURT ELLIS is a creator of the hit documentaries KING CORN, THE GREENING OF SOUTHIE, BIG RIVER and TRUCK FARM, co-founder and leader 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 co-created the documentary KING CORN (directed by Aaron Woolf), which follows the two friends on a journey to understand where 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 cityslickers learn to drive a combine, harvest government subsidies, and homebrew high-fructose corn syrup. Their Peabody-winning findings, shared with theatergoers in 60 cities and on PBS, change the way audiences eat.
In 2009, as a Food and Community Fellow with the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, Ellis produced and directed the 30-minute KING CORN sequel, BIG RIVER. That documentary, broadcast on Discovery’s Planet Green, explores chemical-intensive farming practices and their impact on the people and places downstream.
Also under the Fellowship, Ellis and Cheney developed 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 is one of the leading AmeriCorps organizations addressing child health, with its current class of 200+ corps members working to transform the food environments offered by more than 500 schools in 18 states. The program brings vulnerable children knowledge of what healthy food is, engagement with how it grows, and daily access to it 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 Fellow, a Claneil Foundation Emerging Leader, a winner of the prestigious Heinz Award and the GQ Leader Award, and a member of the board of directors of Slow Food USA. He is available for multimedia lectures, post-film Q&As and workshops on advocacy and sustainability, either alone or with his collaborators.