Sonnewald Natural Foods is More than a Natural Food Store: “When a customer walks into our store, they’re going to be treated to what we call ‘the Sonnewald experience’. It’s not just a trip to the grocery store, it’s a destination."
Oct 01, 2015 02:29PM
● By Erin Lehn Floresca
Part of the Sonnewald Team
Willa Lefever, co-owner of Sonnewald Natural Foods, in Spring Grove, along with her husband, Bill Kaiser, is thankful for her homestead heritage. “I feel blessed that I grew up on Sonnewald, a 60-acre, chemical-free farm. The house I was raised in is the oldest solar residence in Pennsylvania,” says Lefever. Her late parents, Harold “Tim” and Grace Lefever, adhered to sustainable living practices long before it was in style.
“When World War II broke out, my dad, an MIT graduate, got a job at Westinghouse working on a top security project. Once he realized the project was tied to the atomic bomb, his conscience would no longer allow him to work on it. So he gave up his career, which also meant he gave up his draft deferment, and consequently spent time in a Kentucky prison as a conscientious objector,” she says.
While incarcerated, her father experienced an awakening. “He learned about homesteading, organic agricultural practices and vegetarianism. By the time he was released, his values had changed. He found some property and set out to raise his family in the most self-sufficient, sustainable manner possible.”
In 1955, Tim bought Grace a flour mill so she could grind the grain that was grown on the farm. Soon, she was grinding fresh whole wheat flour for friends and members of their community. “Soon after that, mom was selling nuts, seeds and dried fruits from the family pantry. It just grew from there. The whole thing was very unintentional; there seems to have been a divine destiny that my parents allowed to unfold,” shares Lefever.
That destiny took shape as Sonnewald Natural Foods, now celebrating 60 years in business. “When a customer walks into our store, they’re going to be treated to what we call ‘the Sonnewald experience’. It’s not just a trip to the grocery store, it’s a destination. We’re like a hidden gem off the beaten path in York County,” says Marketing Coordinator Stephanie Schuessler. “You’re going to walk into a place that is rich in history where you can actually take a tour of the farm or participate in a ‘weed walk’. With a strong emphasis on education, we have wellness coaches on staff, a huge book department, lots of free literature, educational demos and information from industry experts.”
Sonnewald Natural Foods offers 6,000 square feet of healthy living products and groceries, including certified organic, local, chemical-free produce and grass-fed meats, raw milk, refrigerated and frozen foods. There are also nutritional supplements, body care, gardening supplies and Sonnewald’s own compost. “We also have a very unique, climate-controlled, self-serve bulk foods room with over 300 mostly organic items,” says Schuessler, “Buy a pinch or buy a pound.” The Sonnewald Experience also includes a visit to the Mill Room, where shoppers can have flour freshly ground while they shop.
“Sonnewald is very unique,” agrees Lefever. “It’s a place with a very interesting history and a very exciting future.” When making a decision, one of the questions the Sonnewald team members ask themselves is how to ensure sustainability. “When we were designing the store, we met with the township, and while they were reviewing our plans, one man asked ,‘where’s your dumpster?’ I said, ‘Sir; we don’t expect to need one. We’re going to reuse, recycle or compost almost everything.’ Eighteen years later, we still have no dumpster,” she says.
Lefever affirms that Sonnewald is much more than natural foods. “We aspire to be a prototype for sustainability. Our whole premise is to glean the best of the past and combine it with the best of the present to create a sustainable future.” That is why the store recently created the nonprofit Sonnewald Life Institute, which sponsors the Stoverstown Farmer’s Market, held from 8 a.m. to noon every Saturday through October 31. In addition, the Institute purchased an old fire hall in Stoverstown and plans are being made to transform the building into a community and wellness center.
“We love helping people find their own truth about health. We’re here to help empower our customers to make well-informed decisions. It’s incredibly rewarding that we can assist our customers so they can inspire those around them to live better lives. Our goal is to have people leave Sonnewald feeling revitalized about the choices available to them,” says Lefever.
Sonnewald Natural Foods is located at 4796 Lehman Rd. in Spring Grove, PA. For more information, call 717-225-3825 or visit Sonnewald.org.