Profile: Wendy Banks, farmer and local food innovator

Except for the occasional sign pointing the way, it would be easy to miss Wendy’s Country Market. Located in a weathered 1880s  school house, the store sits on family farmland outside the village of Lyndhurst,  a half-hour drive from Kingston.

Above: Wendy Banks and husband Rick Trudeau with Wendy’s Mobile Market delivery truck.

Although it looks unassuming, Wendy’s Market is celebrated by area foodies and has received rave reviews from the co-editor of Boing Boing, a hugely popular culture blog.  The brainchild of seventh-generation farmer Wendy Banks, the store has won a Premier’s Award for Agri-food Innovation Excellence and been praised as a powerful model for local food enterprise in a recent paper from the Ontario Culinary Tourism Alliance and Sustain Ontario.

Wendy’s success stems from her ability to tap into the growing demand for healthy, local foods by finding creative, sustainable ways to source, sell and distribute them. The chemical-free foods she sells at the store and online through Wendy’s Mobile Market come exclusively from local producers – more than 60 of them, within a 100-mile radius. Door-to-door delivery is provided to online customers, including over 100 households, more than 50 restaurants, and 20 independent retailers in Kingston, Gananoque, Napanee, Brockville, Perth and points in between. 

Since Wendy launched the business four years ago with her husband, Rick Trudeau, it has grown a whopping 400 percent. In the process, it has helped to connect local producers with new markets and to educate customers about the benefits of locally farmed food.  Having started out with only a handful of products, she now offers hundreds. The abundant selection of seasonal, organic produce includes unusual and heirloom varieties that Wendy grows herself, along with veggies from her parents’ farm, Corn Acres. Also available are dairy products such as organic free-run eggs, artisanal cheeses and handmade ice creams; gluten-free products; baking and preserves; seasonal fish; meat; poultry; and game and venison such as elk, bison, duck, rabbit, goose, water buffalo and wild boar. Whether purchased at the store or online, each item clearly indicates the supplier’s name and details on how it was produced. 

As successful as the venture is, it has yet to turn a profit and remains mostly family-run. Wendy and her daughter Leigha manage the store while Rick does deliveries, and the three of them average work days of 10- to 15-hours, seven days a week, year round. Revenues help pay for new equipment and storage to handle increasing business.

Finding an Alternative

It  has never been about getting rich, Wendy says.  Instead, its about finding an alternative to the industrial food system, one that nurtures community and supports family farmers. “We need to move away from agriculture run by corporations and government and put it back in the hands of farmers who really care about what they’re growing,” she says. “We also need to be sustainable, using our own resources and keeping money in our communities.”

Wendy’s convictions spring not only from farm roots, but also from past health problems. While running a greenhouse operation a decade ago, she became seriously ill with an immune disorder and a slew of chemical sensitivities that forced her to pay more attention to what she was putting into her body. As she searched for foods she could eat safely, she developed a network of local suppliers and realized that farmers and restaurants were eager to connect.

Another part of Wendy’s mission is strengthening community. She has worked hard to make the retail store a friendly, welcoming place where people can talk about food, taste new products, and browse local handicrafts and memorabilia. “It’s always a happy environment when people get together around food,” she says. Wendy also organizes informal festivals on her parents’ farm that celebrate seasonal produce and bring together area eaters, producers, chefs, artisans and musicians. Last summer, one of these festivals attracted 1,000 people.

Despite constant challenges and long hours, Wendy is in her element in her multiple roles as farmer, retailer, distributor and agent of change. “I’m a workaholic anyway, and I love farming and feeding people.” She wants to do even more. To accommodate growing demand for winter crops, she is looking into flash-freezing vegetables from Corn Acres and renting out cold storage systems. To boost sustainability, she and Rick are talking to engineers at Queen’s about fueling their delivery vans with vegetable oil during the winter as well as in warmer months.

In the longer term, Wendy wants to see more people eating locally and more local food made available in school and institutional meal programs, all of which will allow producers  to expand their operations. “We need a food system that’s based on farmers in our communities growing healthy, sustainable food. We need a food system we can trust.”

Valerie Ward is a freelance writer and a student in the Sustainable Local Food certificate program at St. Lawrence College.

For more information about Wendy’s Country Market and Wendy’s Mobile Market, visit www.wendysmobilemarket.com.

Print Volume 3


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