The Seattle Chapter of Les Dames d’Escoffier, a nonprofit invitational organization of women leaders in the food, beverage, and hospitality industries, has endowed a new scholarship at Washington State University for organic and sustainable agriculture.

WSU student Harmony Stephens, who is currently pursuing a degree in Organic Agriculture Systems and Soil Science, is the first recipient of the award. She said the scholarship will allow her to pursue her passion for sustainability and environmental preservation.

“The diversity and the youth in farming is rapidly evolving as an industry, and it’s really cool to see organizations like Les Dames encouraging that,” Stephens said.

According to the 2017 USDA Census of Agriculture, the average age of farm producers was 57 years old.

“We need more young people in our industry,” said Kay Simon, a charter member of Les Dames who serves on the Scholarship Committee, as well as liaison for WSU scholarships.

“As organic and sustainably produced food and beverages become more common, it’s important for us as an organization,” said Simon, who said more educators are needed in the field of agricultural sciences. “I think it’s important we support the future.”

Les Dames have now endowed a total of three scholarships at WSU, the others being for Viticulture and Enology and Hospitality.

An Escoffier is defined as a French chef of grand hotel, named after Georges Auguste Escoffier, a famed French chef, culinary writer, and restauranteur. Les Dames d’Escoffier – which translates to Ladies of Escoffier – is an international organization with 40 chapters in locations around the world, including Paris, London, British Columbia and others.

Les Dames d’Escoffier, Seattle Chapter was officially chartered in 1989 and consists of 81 members, including chefs, winemakers, restaurateurs, and others in the hospitality industry.

Though membership is offered by invitation only, women throughout Washington State who are employed in the fields of wine, food, fine beverages, and hospitality are eligible for membership status after five years in the field.

Simon said over the years, Les Dames has endowed over $500,000 in scholarships for students studying agriculture.

An anonymous donor from the Les Dames Seattle Chapter provided an additional gift to award a scholarship to WSU student Sarah Nehring in honor of four women who assisted in making the Les Dames Scholarship a reality; Simon, Kyle Fulwiler, Anne Nisbet, and Carolyn Wika.

Wika, Director of Development for WSU’s College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences, said she is especially impressed with Les Dames efforts to stay in contact with their scholarship recipients, to continue providing opportunities for mentorship throughout their developing careers.

“We just appreciate the continuous support,” Wika said. “The students gain not just from the financial support, but also by individuals and organizations showing an interest in them and believing in them.”

Those interested in supporting Les Dames d’Escoffier scholarships can visit foundation.wsu.edu.