Alum works to refine farm-to-table movement.

Donna Williams ’84, founder and head of Field Goods.

By Emily Harrison Weir

Donna Williams ’84 was neither a "foodie" nor a farmer when she started Field Goods—a new way to get fresh food from fields to families' tables. But she did know what makes a good business opportunity, thanks to her economics major at Mount Holyoke College, her Columbia MBA, and years of experience in the corporate world.

Williams turned on its head the CSA business model—in which customers pay a fee to pick up their weekly shares at a single farm. Field Goods doesn't grow anything. Instead, the firm buys from many small farmers and delivers a preselected assortment of produce to customers at community centers or businesses.

Williams's long-term goal is to convince corporations to subsidize some of the cost of their employees' food.

"My philosophy is that most Americans eat really badly, and that if you can help people eat better, maybe you can lower their health costs," she said. "It seems obvious to me, though I don't know of any other operation that combines what we do with this wellness positioning."

Williams is just launching this initiative, but already Beech-Nut Nutrition Corporation in Amsterdam, New York, has signed on to what Williams dubbed "beet camp." For ten weeks, employees get $20 worth of vegetables for $10, thanks to corporate subsidies.

A successful business sprouts.

Since its founding in 2011, Field Goods has grown from two employees and 60 customers to 23 employees and 2,600 customers. The operation just moved to an 18,000-square-foot warehouse in Athens, New York, to allow the company to grow fivefold.

One reason for the company's success, Williams said, is that she's just like her customers.

"I have a nine-year-old and I have no time to cook, so our e-newsletter features simple, basic recipes," she says. "The perception is that vegetables are harder to cook than meat. But I've learned that—if vegetables are great quality, it's really easy. 

She contends that produce delivered by Field Goods is fundamentally different than what is sold in grocery stores, "because our vegetables are grown for taste, not for long shelf life or looking perfect."

As a result, Williams says, her own family's diet has changed radically.

"We're practically vegetarians now," she says. "We eat what we deliver at Field Goods, and are constantly experimenting."

Breaking the rules.

Experimenting is something with which Williams is very familiar.

"I'm a dramatic example, perhaps an extreme one, of changing careers," said Williams, who has worked in the fields of publishing, Internet start-ups, investment banking, strategy work, sales, and marketing. "And my career roles are not a steady upward climb. I've gone from senior vice president of sales and marketing for a publicly traded company to delivering nuts out of the back of my van in downtown New York. I've broken a lot of rules."

She's always been that kind of person, she says, but notes that "fearlessness about what I can accomplish in the business world was in large part influenced by Mount Holyoke."

"I can usually tell if someone's gone to a women's college by how they are out there in the world," she said.

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