Case study written by Linda Stevens
Interviewees: Wendy Banks (Owner/Operator)
Initial interview August 26, 2011 (Interviewer Linda Stevens), Site visits: August 16, and September 16 2011. (Interviewer Linda Stevens)
* Combination on-farm market and mobile distribution that links over 70 producers with local restaurants, bed and breakfasts and other businesses
* Holds regular community events to bring people out to the farm
* Public education
* Ontario Premier’s Agri-Food Innovation Excellence Award recipient
If you were to ask people in central eastern Ontario about what a successful food hub looks like the response you are likely to hear would be “Wendy’s”. The reason? Wendy’s Mobile Market has fostered numerous connections across producers, processors, and consumers both retail and commercial by recognizing the area’s demand for local food, addressing accessibility challenges and turning the whole package into a growing family business.
Wendy lives by her motto “Think Local”. Wendy’s Mobile Market is a business that specializes in door to door delivery of locally grown and produced products from over 70 producers within an approximate 100-mile radius of her home Country Market in Lyndhurst. Wendy’s markets offer a variety of seasonal, organic produce including heirloom varieties that Wendy grows herself, along with vegetables from her parents’ farm, Corn Acre Farms. 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.
With a user-friendly website, www.wendysmobilemarket.com, residential and commercial consumers can place their orders and receive door-to-door delivery across Merrickville, Picton, Westport, Brockville, Napanee, Gananoque and Kingston. Not only does the Mobile Market offer delivery to customers, a convenience that attracts a loyal customer base, but it also facilitates pick-ups of product from local producers. This service enables ease in distribution for small farms that are at times hard pressed to get their products efficiently out to the multiple small retailers.
The Mobile Market grew out of Wendy’s Country Market, a retail location in Lyndhurst. Unlike the area’s farmers’ markets, and farm-gate and roadside stands that are typically only open during the growing and early harvest seasons, Wendy’s retail store, is open year round. The store and the Mobile Market order through the same producers thereby enhancing efficiency. The Mobile Market has allowed Wendy’s to expand their sales outlets by going to customers instead only having the option of customers coming to their Country Market. Wendy’s Country Market, along with the produce it offers, has its own ways of attracting people. The Country Market is host to an old-fashioned “hoe down” on the farm on the last Sunday of the month from April to October. These monthly events offer opportunities for local farmers, chefs and artisans go to display and sell their products celebrating local food, family and farming. A recent addition to Wendy’s Country Market is a mobile kitchen where Wendy’s Market Meals are created using the same local ingredients that supply her Markets.
Wendy is active in activities that advocate for local food systems. She promotes buying locally to help create local economic sustainability. Wendy points out that a key and attractive feature that appeals to her customers is that the food available for purchase through her business is easily traceable. Food traceability (knowledge of knowing where the food is produced and how it is produced) is a value that Wendy believes strongly in and thinks consumers have the right to have traceable food available to them. Her commitment is that “We will provide our customers with knowledge on all our products. In turn our customers will reap the rewards of a healthier local food system.”
Wendy struggled with health concerns for a number of years and developed a compromised immune system along with a number of allergies. In order to improve her health Wendy began educating herself on the foods she consumed and as she began eliminating many processed foods including unnecessary additives and preservatives from her diet her health started to improve. In attempting to increase her nutrition intake, it became obvious to Wendy that local food provided more nutrients than food shipped long distances. With access to fresh vegetables and hormone and antibiotic free beef from her parent’s farm, Wendy laid the foundation for her meals. Simultaneously, she started growing her own chemical free heritage tomatoes and herbs to use. Searching for other local food to add to her meals, Wendy was surprised to discover a wealth of healthy nutritious foods available locally in searching for variety in her own meals. As Wendy’s health improved, her list of local producers grew and family and friends started showing a strong interest in purchasing foods from the many producers with which Wendy had contact.
With a background in agriculture, a desire for improved health and a strong interest in purchasing local products Wendy became involved with the Frontenac Arch Biosphere Reserve by attending meetings on local food initiatives. Members of the organization focused on the problem that local producers faced regarding distribution of their produce and lack of consumer awareness. With a strong commitment to helping local producers reach new markets with their produce and a desire to educate others in our community on the natural health benefits of eating local farm fresh produce it became obvious to Wendy and husband Rick that they could provide the necessary link between local producers and local consumers.
Wendy Banks and husband Rick Trudeau operate the business seven days a week with two full time employees. Wendy is a sixth generation farmer with a background in Horticultural studies from Algonquin College. Wendy’s previous experience included owning and operating a successful greenhouse operation. Rick has a background in transportation from the Canadian Forces and as a delivery driver. One of the full time employees is Wendy’s daughter Leigha who works as a salesperson on weekends and packs orders at night working around her school schedule. The other full time staff member is Laura, a chef who works in the new mobile kitchen, creating entrees and baked goods using local ingredients. Part time staff is required during the summer months. Students are hired to help in the store with packing orders and sales.
The business is a partnership owned by Wendy and Rick. The retail store in Lyndhurst is situated in an old school house (circa 1880s) owned by Wendy’s parents Neil and Gale Banks. A new kitchen for onsite food preparation has recently been added to the building. The building has on site cold storage facilities. An on-site greenhouse is also available for the starting of plants for their own vegetable production.
The Mobile Market is facilitated with two delivery vans owned by Wendy and Rick. The vans are fitted with cooling and on board freezers. One van has been converted to be powered by used vegetable oil in the warmer months.
The utilization of on line communication technology is vital to receiving and processing the orders (e-mails and web site).
A small plot of farmland is owned and available for growing their own produce.
Wendy’s Country Market and Wendy’s Mobile Market together are a business venture and are supported through income from sales and personal financial resources that include a line of credit and credit cards. The business is also supported by the New Farm Program rebate and Premier’s Award winnings.
Wendy’s is connected to a number of supportive organizations that help promote her business including, memberships with the Local Flavours/ Frontenac Arch Biosphere Reserve and the Brockville Chamber of Commerce. Wendy is also a member of Local Farmer’s Union and OMAFRA and has been involved with Lyndhurst Rejuvenation Committee.
Through the business, she is involved with over 70 local producers, numerous local restaurants, bed and breakfasts and other businesses. Wendy has also participated with the Local Food Local Chef Initiative, a business development project that highlights local producers through events with local restaurateurs cooking with locally produced foods.
Media attention including national magazines (Homemakers, Union Farmer Monthly, Ottawa Magazine, Food Down the Road and others) has helped propel the business into the commercial sector. On-line media attention including blogs and local on line news coverage encourage increased awareness of the benefits of local and sustainably produced food and of her business.
Building community connections is a big part of what Wendy hopes to achieve. As described in the organizational review, community events are held at her Country Market bringing together food, music, art and community. Wendy has promoted and advocated in support of the local food system as a regular speaker for various schools, organizations, round table meetings, conferences and awareness events.
Policy and Programs
As a small and growing business offering benefit to the local community, Wendy’s believes her business would benefit from the availability of low interest financing options. Increased programs to support innovative businesses to allow them to grow without having to rely heavily on personal and higher interest financial resources would allow a faster return on investment and would encourage the growth of small and local businesses.
The Mobile Market is a lot of work. Access to volunteer workers to help with packing and preparing delivery orders would be beneficial. Wendy also feels that having a network or centre within communities that would allow multiple food deliveries to be delivered to one site would support her business in that it would save on fuel costs and minimize scheduling conflicts.
Challenges (and Overcoming)
As a small, family run business, Wendy explains a big challenge is the demanding schedule of operating a business seven days a week. It is difficult to manage with such a large number of pick up and deliveries required within a limited and inflexible time frame. Workings around holidays are particularly difficult due to decreased time producers are available. The costs associated with ongoing resources can present challenges as well. The increasing costs of fuel limits delivery destinations and increasing hydro and produce costs roll into how pricing has to be set to address rising costs. It is a balancing act.
Wendy explains that a key challenge has been keeping up with consumer demand for more products. This creates financial strain due to the need for more storage space and the additional staff required. The retail store, Wendy’s Country Market, allows an option for providing consumers a place to shop other than just on line and also allows for more space for storage which alleviates some of the space strain. The addition of the mobile kitchen provides a value added option to increase product variety.
The business is growing but with growth comes the need to invest in the business, which limits seen profits. An article prepared for Food Down the Road by Valarie Ward explains that 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. It has never been about getting rich, Wendy says. Instead, it’s 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 has had a significant impact in the local food system through her multifaceted approach to building her own retail business, but also in how the Mobile Market has fostered a network that connects players in the local food system through accommodating their access and distribution needs. The community hoe down events held at the Country Market site brings people together in a way that connects food and community and builds the relationships that support the local food system.
Wendy views the constant increase in consumer demand as an indication of steady success. Ward explains in her article that since Wendy and Rick launched the business a little over four years ago, it has grown a remarkable 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.
Wendy’s success follows from her ability to tap into the growing demand for healthy, local foods by finding creative, sustainable ways to source, sell and distribute them. Her success is shared with area farmers. As additional producers are added on to the supply list for the Wendy’s Markets, more farmers are able to increase their income. Wendy points out that Wendy’s Markets “have not only created immediate benefits to our community with our delivery service, but long term benefits by improving consumer health and safety, while increasing demand for local products. With an increase in agriculture income and more job creation there will be an increase in local spending which creates a more sustainable community”.
Wendy has been recognized for her approach and for the large impact that this small business has had on the community around it. In 2008, Wendy won the Leeds and Grenville Premier’s award for Agri Food Innovation Excellence in recognition for her hard work and dedication to both producers and consumers. Wendy’s Mobile Market was selected as a finalist in Scotia Bank Challenge this past summer (2011) for having a big impact on their community. Wendy’s Mobile Market was recently praised as a powerful model for local food enterprise in a recent paper from the Ontario Culinary Tourism Alliance and Sustain Ontario.
Wendy is happy to point out the additional environmental benefits of the mobile market including that keeping it local and having the Mobile Market deliver to you, results in less greenhouse gases, fewer vehicles on the roads and less distance travelled.
Through the growing success and increased recognition for her innovation and efforts locally Wendy notes that her personal sense of satisfaction comes from; “just knowing that more people are eating healthier”.
With the recent addition of the mobile kitchen, Wendy looks forward to having some time over the winter to develop more gluten free products to add to their growing list of products available to purchase through their web site and at their store.
The potential exists for Wendy’s Mobile Market to provide a prototype for other regions across Ontario and throughout Canada to develop a distribution system with a similar format. Mobile Markets in particular are gaining recognition as an effective way to create and connect markets across local communities. Wendy’s has been an example of what a significant impact a small business can have has on the local community while still working within one’s passion. It is possible for others to implement a similar business by following Wendy’s lead, learning from her challenges and sharing in the successes such a community-linked business can produce.
In her submission to the Scotia Bank Impact Challenge, Wendy suggests that “we would recommend this approach to other businesses…Our advice to those wanting to start a business would be to choose to do what they are passionate about because you will not only be successful in finding job satisfaction, but you will inspire others to become involved with what matters to you. Of course, we recommend that a person starts by doing their research and by filling a need. Do not be afraid to start out small and continue to grow as consumer demand increases. We started out with a search for better health and more local food sources and ended up developing a unique door to door year round delivery service.”
Wendy was also profiled in the latest issue of Food Down the Road.