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Source: Chipotle news release

Thanks to initiatives like the Next Generation Foundation's scholarship program, the average age of a Niman Ranch farmer is 43, 15 years younger than the national average. (Photo: Business Wire)
Denver - Chipotle Mexican Grill, the fast casual chain known for its burritos, guac and an unwavering commitment to food with integrity, donated $125,000 to the Niman Ranch Next Generation Foundation's scholarship program for young farmers and future sustainable agriculture leaders. Brian Niccol, Chipotle Mexican Grill's Chairman and CEO, will announce this investment during Niman Ranch's annual farmer appreciation gathering and celebration on September 9.

Niccol will note in his remarks that Chipotle has donated more than $425,000 over the past several years to support Niman Ranch farmers, funding scholarships as well as $150,000 in young farmer seed grants and the recent launch of a virtual farmers' market selling Niman Ranch meats.

The partnership between Chipotle and Niman Ranch started in 1998 when Chipotle's founder visited Niman Ranch's original hog farmer, Paul Willis, and saw a model for farming that he believed in. Chipotle began serving Niman Ranch meat after that visit and continues to do so today. Chipotle's commitment to "Food with Integrity" and serving Niman Ranch beef and pork fueled the recruitment of new farmers and ranchers to the Niman Ranch network and helped provide stable livelihoods for independent family farmers over their 20-plus years of partnership.

"Offering Niman Ranch products on our menu enables us to serve sustainable food raised humanely by farmers whose ethical practices align with our values. After more than 20 years, we're still proudly working together and look forward to cultivating the future of farming," Niccol said.

Rural America has changed dramatically over the past 30 years. Four out of five Iowa pig farms that operated three decades ago are out of business today. In recent years, 40 times more farms have been lost than gained. Young farmers face particularly challenging obstacles getting started with high land prices and significant debt.

Thanks to partners like Chipotle, the history and future of Niman Ranch and its community of independent family farmers provides a contrast to those trends. Niman Ranch's network continues to grow, with more interest than ever before as the benefits of the Niman Ranch program spreads by word of mouth among farmers. Chipotle's support of young farmers through the Next Generation Foundation provides an additional reason for a more hopeful outlook for sustainable agriculture.

"Our farmers rightly credit Chipotle with the early success of the brand, providing a stable partnership in our formative years," Paul Willis shared. In addition to being Niman Ranch's founding hog farmer, Willis also serves on the board of the Next Generation Foundation. "Chipotle's generous donation to our scholarship program illustrates their continued investment in the future of our community of independent family farmers."

Since its inception in 2006, the Niman Ranch Next Generation Foundation has awarded 273 scholarships to support the future of farming. "Lightening the load for beginning farmers with reduced college debts gives these young people a leg up to help them return to the farm and continue traditional farming practices," shared Drew Calvert, Executive Director of the Next Generation Foundation.

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