Donna Williams, Founder of Field Goods
Fifty-two weeks a year, 4,000 customers from the Capital District and beyond pick up a tote bag of veggies and fruit, bread, eggs and dairy products. Everything in that bag comes from small farms and producers, thanks to the tireless efforts of Donna Williams and her dedicated team at Field Goods. Field Goods is a woman-owned business that supports small farms and producers. Donna’s goal? Make it easier for people to eat better and make it easier for small farmers to get their products to consumers.
Throw me some stats.
Field Goods partners with 80 small farms and producers from northern Vermont to southern New Jersey, with the majority in the Capital Region and Hudson Valley. They supply more than 150 varieties of seasonal veggies and fruits, fresh or flash-frozen. We deliver to 750 locations—500 businesses, 100 libraries and 150 schools in eastern New York, northern New Jersey and western Connecticut.
How does the service work?
Our customers can subscribe to any one of four Fruit & Vegetable Bags (priced from $16 to $32) as well as order bread, cheese, pasta and more. Our subscriptions are flexible and customers can easily switch from receiving a pre-selected bag to ordering individual items. We also stock our site with staples such as oil, vinegar, honey, etcetera. Every Friday, we post what’s available for the following week. We pride ourselves on hunting down a wide variety of delicious and hard-to-find products.
Not to boast, but people say we’re a lifeline. Even in our region, folks can have limited access to quality produce. We help solve that problem.
What’s your background?
I’m a Mount Holyoke grad, with a BA in economics. I got my MBA from Columbia in media and marketing. I started as an investment banker in New York in the 1980s then shifted to publishing and e-commerce. I had some health issues in the early 2000s and spent a lot of time recuperating at my parents’ home here in Athens. At that point, I realized I was done with the New York City execu-chic crap. Despite knowing nothing about the food industry, I started working for some friends from Columbia as the East Coast rep for their company Sahale, a vendor of gourmet snacks.
So how did you get from there to here?
I’ve had some radical career shifts so I don’t really fear change. The Greene County Industrial Development Authority hired me in 2010 to do a study to determine how we could grow small farms in our county. The study proved that lots of people wanted to farm, and lots of people wanted access to local produce, but we lacked a scalable marketing and distribution business.
And that led to Field Goods.
Exactly. Everything came together serendipitously in 2011. Since I knew nothing about ag, I had no preconceived notions about what might work or fail. My venture began with a simple question:“How can I grow small farms in this region and connect them with consumers?”Since small-scale farms don’t really grow “grocery store” produce, my goal was to get what they dogrow to consumers. We started with 10 suppliers and 60 customers. Now we have about 80 suppliers and 4,000 customers.
Describe the vision that drives your model.
My goal is to impact the health crisis, at least part of it, by making it easier and more desirable for people to eat better. Many businesses share that goal so we built Field Goods as a wellness service that delivers to employees at their workplace. We work with Beech-Nut, Fujifilm, SUNY New York State Teachers’Retirement and hundreds of other large and small companies. Another group is community-minded organizations such as libraries. We deliver hundreds of bags to the Albany Public Libraries each year. Schools have also jumped on the Field Goods veggie train.
BeetCamp Program is an employer-subsidized program. The employer contributes $10 per employee order, and the company commits to 10 weeks of delivery. Studies show that it takes 10 weeks to start, or break, a habit. BeetCamp fosters behavioral change by improving diet through easy access to healthful produce. Companies benefit because this is a visible wellness program, especially if a high percentage of employees participate. More than 80% of participants say the experience had a lasting impact on them and their family’s diet. If we had more large companies participating in BeetCamp as part of their employees’ wellness program, that would radically help farmers, improve employee health and enhance company culture.
How many people do you employ?
We have 32 full-time employees. About 15% of our workforce is “differently-abled”people, who help in packing and distribution. They bring focus, enthusiasm and reliability to their work and we work with them to find the things that they do best. It’s a win-win.
How has Field Goods impacted the farmers and producers?
We’re a driver for growth because we buy in such volume. Some farmers have increased acreage 180% since they connected with Field Goods. We work closely with them to match our needs with products they grow best. Some farmers grow products that are unusual or hard-to-find heirloom varieties specifically for us. If a farmer calls us asking to help them move a bumper crop, we can help them by “putting it on the menu” for the next week.
What’s on the horizon?
We’re expanding our reach into central New York this summer. We already work with a number of suppliers there. And we’re continuing to enhance our product line. We received a grant to incorporate online sale of frozen meats. Our customers have been asking for access to local grassfed meats and we’ll soon be able to ship those overnight.
How do you unwind?
I’m devoted to Bikram yoga—hard to beat sweating it out in a 105-degree room for an hour and a half! I also love to cook and watch Netflix. I pull stuff from the warehouse walk-ins, a serious fringe benefit, and improvise from there. I’ve never been an exact measurement type of cook. And I couldn’t live without my Bragg aminos. My 12-year-old son will only eat veggies if I sprinkle them with Bragg.
What appeals, after seven years?
Working with the farmers. They’re just incredible people. I couldn’t say that when I was in banking. I also love the variety. Every week is a puzzle, and my staff and I have to make it work.
5 RAPID FIRE
Breakfast today? Granola from Bread Alone—I raided the warehouse when I got to work.
Favorite childhood meal? Chicken potpie.
Cake, pie or cookies? Chocolate chip cookies.
Guilty pleasure in food or drink? Laphroaig Scotch and pâté.
Late night snack? Crackers and cheese.