Our co-founders saw that fresh, nutritious foods are often off the table for Philadelphians in poverty. They felt called to change this—by founding a philanthropic farm.
Our co-founders, Tony and Amy D’Orazio, grew up in Philadelphia, America’s poorest large city, and saw deep poverty up close. Even as they built a successful business, they shared their hometown with hundreds of thousands of people without enough to eat. Since meeting in college, Tony and Amy had always volunteered in soup kitchens and over time, as they became successful entrepreneurs, they were able to also offer financial support, too. But eventually they felt that donating time and money wasn’t enough. They saw enormous problems, and felt called to help fix them in a larger way.
Through their lived experience, the D'Orazios came to see that the best foods—the fresh, organic ingredients that they could afford for their own family—were literally off the table for the very people who need them most. And the kitchens, food pantries, homeless shelters and other emergency food providers serving these communities had to somehow provide daily sustenance patched together from surprise donations—often a daily puzzle of canned food, stale baked goods, expiring cheese and spoiling fruit— supplemented with tiny budgets stretched to the breaking point. As a result, people suffering the greatest disparities can often only access highly processed foods, day after day, year after year. Fresh, delicious, nutritious foods are nearly impossible to come by. And the very same people who may not know where their next meal might come from are also more likely to suffer diet-related disease, like diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease. Tony and Amy saw a way to change this—by founding a philanthropic farm.
In 2013, Tony and Amy purchased land in Bucks County, PA, an hour north of Philadelphia, and set to work building a working farm of the highest ecological and quality standards, establishing Carversville Farm Foundation to grow chef-quality food, all for donation to feed communities in need. It wasn’t easy. They knew they wanted to grow food to give away, but it took time to learn how. Looking back, they say they made a lot of mistakes in those early years. They hired young farmers, experimented with goats, bought the wrong tractor, sat through many meeting with consultants, and weren’t sure if the early harvests they donated to soup kitchens were having a real impact. Some neighbors called them “fake farmers.”
But they learned from those early mistakes. They brought in expert consultants, hired proven farmers and built out infrastructure like irrigation, greenhouses and high tunnels. They “grew soil” with regenerative cover crops and put in the work to become certified organic.
As both the farm and their knowledge grew, Tony and Amy had two epiphanies. One was that they found the greatest impact when directly working with skilled soup kitchen chefs, people who cook from scratch and serve restaurant-quality meals, free of charge. And the second was that, rather than guess what those soup kitchen chefs might want most, they needed to ask.
After fruitful meetings with staff at Philadelphia soup kitchens like Face to Face Germantown and Broad Street Ministry, who serve hundreds of free meals daily, Tony and Amy became not only client-focused, but also client-led. That meant rather than showing up with, say, a van full of broccoli, they could ask a partner what they need most, and plant accordingly. Looking back, the soup kitchen staff say they were a bit skeptical that Carversville Farm Foundation would be able to deliver. But we did—literally.
Listening to clients yielded many surprises about what soup kitchens need most. For example, it turns out they often receive plenty of summer tomatoes, donated in peak season by farmers with a perishable bumper crop they can’t sell. But other staples were nearly impossible to come by. Fresh greens are essential—but if soup kitchens receive any, they’re less green than yellow. Daily essentials like potatoes, onions and garlic almost never get donated—because retailers with a surplus can save them to sell in the coming weeks or months. Pricey flavor boosters like herbs, chile peppers, and ginger—which make meals familiar and delicious—rarely show up. And organic poultry and eggs, or grassfed beef, like you’d find in a top restaurant? Forget about it.
Tony, Amy and staff set to work building the systems and expertise to raise exactly those ingredients—all to the highest standards of ecology, animal welfare, nutrition and flavor. Every harvest is grown and packed as if it’s going to a high-paying chef—but it’s all to give away.
In addition to planting by request, CFF established an order system, treating soup kitchen chefs just like high-end clients. Our staff sends out a weekly fresh list detailing what’s available from the farm, and each client places an order. We harvest and pack to order, and deliver directly to their door. Last year alone, we donated a million servings of vegetable, eggs and meat.
"The farm became not only client-focused, but also client-led. That meant rather than showing up with, say, a van full of broccoli, staff could ask partners what they need most, and plant accordingly."
But we don’t only donate fresh produce. We also custom-grow tens of thousands of organic seedlings for fellow mission-driven urban farms, delivering specially requested and culturally appropriate varieties from eggplant and cilantro to napa cabbage, habanero peppers and heirloom watermelon. We also welcome cohorts of culinary jobs training students to the farm for hands-on, curriculum-driven programs.
Ten years in, the farm has grown, year over year. We now custom-grow diverse, delicious vegetables; log-grown shiitake mushrooms; pastured poultry and eggs; and grassfed beef—all certified organic, and all donated.
Today, soup kitchens, food pantries and homeless shelters—who daily serve thousands of people in need—receive weekly deliveries of top-quality food. Their kitchen staff are tossing fresh salad, braising fresh greens, mincing garlic, whisking eggs, simmering stock, seasoning beef, and roasting chickens.
Staff and leadership at the non-profits we support call our donations beautiful, transformative, even game changers. The soup kitchen chefs say they can’t believe we give away such top-quality food. But Tony and Amy see those foods as a human right, and precisely why they created
Carversville Farm Foundation.
“Why shouldn’t the underserved in our society,” asks Tony, “enjoy the same types of meals that the highest end of our society take for granted every day?”