Using Money to Make Change in Organic Farming

The Newman family's unique business model promotes organic farming and food.

| February/March 2004

  • Organic Food Company
    Nell Newman holds an American kestrel while working for a non-profit predatory bird conservation group. At that time, she learned her blood contained pesticides; from that discovery came her idea for an organic food company that benefits charitable organizations.
    Photo by Brian Latta/Predatory Bird Research Group
  • Nell Newman
    Nell Newman started Newman's Own Organics, which makes a variety of snack foods and pet foods, in 1993. To date, the company has donated millions of dollars to charities and helped organic food become mainstream.
    Photo by Frank Gaglione
  • Organic Snack Foods
    The next time you crave pretzels, cookies or a candy bar, look for these Newman's Own Organics products. Your purchase will promote organic farming and other worthwhile causes.
    Photo by Matthew T. Stallbaumer
  • Organic Farming
    To date, Newman's Own Organics has generated $2 million that Paul Newman has donated to organic agriculture research, wildlife preservation, education, medical research, affordable housing and other charitable causes.
    Photo by Fotolia/f9photos

  • Organic Food Company
  • Nell Newman
  • Organic Snack Foods
  • Organic Farming

Imagine a typical New England family Thanksgiving dinner — mouth-watering roasted turkey with traditional bread stuffing (Father's favorite), buttered baby peas, mashed potatoes with gravy, sweet potatoes, tossed salad and fresh pumpkin pie, all served in a homey 200-year-old colonial in Westport, Connecticut.

But this dinner is anything but typical. The food did not come from the supermarket or an upscale gourmet grocer. The meal's ingredients arrived secretly, in two bulging tote bags muscled aboard an airliner in California. This meal is a culinary trap set by a cunning daughter.

Enter the unsuspecting victim, one Paul Newman, actor. His life is about to take an unexpected turn.

"He is very traditional," says the designated holiday cook, Elinore "Nell" Newman, eldest of three daughters of Paul Newman and actress Joanne Woodward. "So, when he finished wiping his plate clean, I asked, 'How did you like your organic Thanksgiving dinner, Pa?' He stopped for a minute, then smiled as he realized he'd been had. 'I see what you mean,' he said. 'I understand now."'

What "Pa" Newman suddenly understood was just how good fresh, organic food can be. Like a lot of Americans, Newman had the idea organic food was nut loaf and yeast gravy from the hippie-dippie 1960s. Nell kept telling him organic wasn't that way anymore. And every time Pa asked her to join his food business, Newman's Own, she came back with the idea of starting her own organic line under the Newman name. They had been arguing about it for years.

"That is why I did the dinner," Nell Newman says of the 1992 organic Thanksgiving, "because whenever I mentioned to him the idea of doing something with organic foods, he turned up his nose. My sole purpose was to educate him about organic, to show him that it didn't have to be heavy, but could be light, good and fresh."

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