07/26/2012 at 03:05 PM EDT
Robin Emmons was a weekend gardener when she began bringing fresh fruits and vegetables to her mentally ill, formerly homeless brother.
"I thought of all the people who can't afford good food," she says. "I wanted to do something."
So one day in March, 2008, she quit her job at the bank where she'd worked for five years. She announced the news to her stunned husband that night.
"My life was full of things," says Emmons, 44. "But it was empty. I just felt I needed to do more."
Soon after, she founded Sow Much Good
. Rounding up friends and people who heard about what she was doing, she built up a team of 120 volunteer farmers who worked two parcels of land, while Emmons continued to raise produce in her garden.
By now, the nonprofit has donated two tons of organic fruits and vegetables to food assistance programs; they also sell produce at rock-bottom prices at stands in low-income neighborhoods.
"I get a huge cabbage for $1, collard greens for $2, watermelon, squash, zucchini for practically nothing," says Michael Norman, 44, who was laid off from his own bank job in 2008 and is raising a troubled relative's three kids. "Robin has restored my faith in humanity."
As for Emmons, she hasn't looked back on trading a life of designer suits and nice paychecks for shorts and a shovel.
"I'm up sometimes at 4:30 a.m. and don't quit until midnight," she says. "I get joy loading up the truck and seeing the same faces come back to load up on good food. I wouldn't have it any other way. This is my bliss."
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