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A Tradition of Excellence in Sustainability

Jul 04, 2016 05:03PM ● By Kate Morgan

Sonnewald Solar Home

A Tradition of Excellence in Sustainability

Sonnewald Natural Foods, located on the 60-acre chemical-free Sonnewald Farm, in Spring Grove, Pennsylvania, has a long history of providing the community with locally sourced, organic, whole and healthy foods. Co-owner Willa Lefever proudly carries on the legacy of her father, Harold “Tim” Lefever, and his wife Grace, who were living out their mission of sustainability as early as the 1940s.

“My father was an engineering student at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the late ‘30s, and they were doing research on solar energy,” says Willa. “That’s where my father came into contact with the concept of creating energy without depleting and polluting the environment.”

After MIT, Tim left a lucrative job with the Westinghouse Electric Corporation when he realized the work was tied to the atomic bomb. That decision also lost him his draft deferment, and he was incarcerated in Kentucky as a conscientious objector. “It was there in prison where he learned about homesteading, organic farming practices and vegetarianism,” Willa says. “When he was released, he set about raising his family in a self-sufficient, sustainable manner.”

Willa’s father bought Sonnewald farm in the mid ‘40s and built the house where she was raised, which she believes is the oldest solar residence in Pennsylvania. In 1955, Tim purchased a flour mill for Grace, who began providing whole wheat flour to a few interested people.

Those were the humble beginnings of what is today a thriving family market at the heart of the community, where customers can find certified organic, local, chemical-free groceries, climate-controlled bulk foods and have wheat and other grains freshly ground into flour. Now Sonnewald Natural Foods occupies a building which has never had a dumpster over the course of 20 years.

“We reuse and repurpose everything possible,” Willa says. “We compost like crazy, and when we have things that are of no use to us, we make them available for our customers to take and upcycle. Those are just small pieces of a large endeavor for sustainability.”

While Willa is eager to educate visitors about the history of the farm and store, she is equally excited by Sonnewald’s bright future, envisioning the farm as an intentional community with alternative building structures where residents will once again farm the land and live out Sonnewald’s philosophies of peace, good health, sustainability and good stewardship.

Willa also looks forward to initiatives that will bring those tenets to the larger community, including plans for the Stoverstown Community Center, to be housed in a former fire hall that will serve as a venue for educational events, classes, workshops and lectures.

“We’re also planning to add a second story; the Stoverstown Whole Life Center, with practitioners of non-toxic and non-invasive healing arts, quieter activities like yoga and tai chi, and a café with juice bar,” says Willa.

Willa continues to spread her parents’ message of pacifism, personal health and Earth stewardship with her participation on the Sonnewald Life Institute board of directors and by leading weed walks and Sonnewald farm tours. She aims to inspire new generations to carry on the same ideals of human responsibility.

“We each have to develop an awareness that our participation on this planet affects others. It affects the animals, plants—the Earth itself,” Willa says. “Human beings are part of a community of interdependence that is critical for survival. If we continue to live in the wasteful, greedy, polluting, self-centered way of recent decades, human beings will become extinct. Sonnewald Natural Foods evolved out of my parents sharing their enthusiasm for living sustainably. It was their belief that if we want to change the world—and I do—that, ’Change has to start with me.’”

Sonnewald Natural Foods is located at 4796 Lehman Rd. in Spring Grove, PA. For more information, call 717-225-3825 or visit

Kate Morgan is a frequent contributor to Natural Awakenings magazine.

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