Healthy Eating, Made Easy with the Newman's Own Foundation Challenge

By: Net Impact staff | June 3, 2016

Sweet Fields is making healthy eating easier in Norristown, PA's food desert
Sweet Fields is making healthy eating easier in Norristown, PA's food desert

Barbara Donnini and Berenice Leung really just want one, simple thing: to make it easy and convenient for people to eat healthfully. To make that happen, they’re doing something that’s the complete opposite of easy: they run Sweet Fields, an organic, community-supported agriculture (CSA) nonprofit in Norristown, Penn.  A CSA is a farm that sells shares of its crops to its community members. The term was coined in the mid-80s but the concept has recently exploded in popularity, thanks to consumers’ demand to know where (and how) their food originates. 

While every CSA operates differently, most stick to this general rule: the planting, tending and harvesting is done by the CSA itself. Then once a week, paying members either drive to the farm or to a central meeting spot to pick up their box of food. By default, all CSAs are models for nutrition and sustainability: local, in-season produce that’s eaten within days of harvest. In addition, Sweet Fields is promising not to use: synthetic or toxic pesticides; plastic bags or produce stickers (the glue is considered to be a food additive). 

Founders Donnini and Leung were among our 91 participants in the Newman’s Own Foundation Challenge, so we caught up with them recently to find out how it’s been going so far. Here’s what they told us:

1. How is it different from what’s already in the market?

In the future we plan on having additional sustainability attractions like a walipini, Earthship, edible garden scavenger hunt and a mycology center. [Compared] to a typical CSA farm, though, our biggest difference is that … we'll do small things that some farms don't do, like: take credit cards; have a great website for placing orders and allow you to choose your own vegetables in your CSA box. In the future, we want to expand this to include a drive-thru for fresh produce, as well as some prepared foods, pre-measured meals and possibly even a delivery service. 

2. What’s been the best thing?

Reading the comments on the petition we had to create when Montgomery County was going to delay our project until next year (which would have caused us to lose the whole project). So many people signed the petition so quickly, and all of the comments were overwhelmingly positive and in support of the initiative. We can't thank everyone enough for coming together for a good cause!

3. How has the Newman’s Own Challenge made a difference?

[It] has helped us realize we aren't being "over the top" with our serious considerations for marketing and business practices. Some of our close friends have criticized us for being too worried about our corporate/brand image, our business and market analyses, and our deep concern with customer satisfaction and interaction with the public.

4. Have you ever done anything like this before?

[We] both have extensive experience in the Philadelphia sustainability space. Others that work closely with us also understand sustainable agriculture, environmental stewardship, and nutrition very well, so although we haven't done this specifically, we've got all the right tools to make it a success.

Sweet Fields recently talked with the Norristown Regional High School Eagle Eye.  Watch the video below:

To find out more about Sweetfields, visit their webpage or find them on Facebook.

Read more about Newman’s Own Foundation Challenge success stories here.

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