On ‘Sweet Fields’ and Purpose: Reflections of a Net Impact Healthy Food Fellow

By: Berenice Leung - Net Impact Fellow | March 30, 2017

Net Impact Fellow, Berenice shares her path to starting an organic garden and sustainability center.
Net Impact Fellow, Berenice shares her path to starting an organic garden and sustainability center.

Berenice Leung is a 2016-2017 Net Impact Healthy Food Fellow and a student at the University of Pennsylvania studying Environmental Studies and Business/Behavioral Economics. She is also the co-founder of Sweet Fields, an organic farm and sustainability center. Through her Healthy Food Fellowship and her nonprofit Sweet Fields, she continues to promote healthy eating and sustainable living in Pennsylvania. 

Growing up, I dreamed of becoming a veterinarian to work with animals—the thought of working in agriculture and growing produce never really crossed my mind. Yet, as a love for animals led to my adopting a plant-based diet, I have grown increasingly aware of the numerous issues (i.e. health, environmentalism, bioethics) that our everyday food choices involve. For instance, where a food is sourced and what growing practices were used are significant determinants of our food’s eco-footprint. Such awareness paired with my undergraduate education at the University of Pennsylvania (Environmental Studies – College of Arts & Sciences; Business/Decision Processes – The Wharton School) are key to my co-founding Sweet Fields. 

Organic Farm, Education Center, Social Enterprise

Sweet Fields is currently developing to be an organic farm and education center; the farm will sell and donate local produce while the education center will provide hands-on learning opportunities related to nutrition and environmental sustainability. Its mission is to increase healthy eating and inspire sustainable living in the local community, especially for residents facing food insecurity. One of my main initiatives is to partner with the Norristown Area School District which reports 80.6% of enrolled students being from economically disadvantaged households; the goal of field trips and in-school programming is achievable when Sweet Fields has raised enough funds to build a multi-feature education center. (The latest fundraiser planned is a 5K race called “Lettuce Run for Sweet Fields”.)

The idea for this social venture started when my friend and I casually discussed in 2014 our vision of creating a community space related to our shared passion for healthy food and environmental sustainability. Sweet Fields eventually developed as we further discussed how local food access and education could help address two of today’s most pressing issues: food insecurity and environmental sustainability. To date, Sweet Fields has secured a ten-year lease for seven acres of land within Norristown Farm Park, incorporated as a 501(c)(3), begun preparations for its first growing season, and developed numerous community partnerships that will significantly contribute to the organization’s success. Eventually, Sweet Fields’s outreach could expand to the nearby Philadelphia and Chester counties.

With a little help from Newman's Own Foundation

All the while Sweet Fields continues developing, I am thankful for not only the monetary support and in-kind donations but also the knowledge and resources provided by community supporters. The opportunity to become a 2016-17 Net Impact Healthy Food Fellow in partnership with Newman’s Own Foundation exemplifies how a network of existing organizations furthers Sweet Fields’s progress. The fellowship has welcomed me to a cohort of like-minded university students across the US, and I am motivated in knowing that we all embrace the importance of increasing healthy food access. By the end of the academic year, each fellow will have completed an “Impact Project” to help create a more just food system; I am excited for my impact project to be the continuation of Sweet Fields.

Thinking about Sweet Fields’s mission imparts in me both pride and humility, for I am confident in the organization’s continued growth but not without overcoming challenges. For instance, time is one of the biggest constraints as I balance the responsibilities of being a full-time student (I will be graduating in May 2017) with those of an aspiring social entrepreneur. Sweet Fields thus continually builds my time management skills, urges me to prioritize, and poses the question: how committed are you to the cause? I answer this by personally reflecting, especially during moments of feeling overstretched or discouraged (e.g. facing a grant rejection, an unexpected expenses, a slower-than-anticipated timeline). 

Passion into Action

Certain challenges are beyond my control; but, internalizing my passion to address food insecurity and environmental sustainability, I realize that the last couple years of time and emotional investment into Sweet Fields would not have been possible without my heart, mind, and actions all aligning with an overall sense of purpose. In short, my commitment to Sweet Fields perpetually strengthens as I encounter more people and information related to the deeply entrenched issues that I so deeply care to address. 

Certainly not everybody grows up wanting to start an organic farm and education center—even I didn’t. Nevertheless, our personal interests are the drivers or our lives and mine have led me to Sweet Fields.

Thank you to the Newman's Own Foundation for sponsoring Net Impact's Healthy Food Fellowship. Learn more about the Net Impact Fellowships, our four cohorts - Impact Design, Criminal Justice, Healthy Food, and Racial Equity - and all of our amazing fellows here.

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