Fruitful Market is an all-organic grocery and kitchen that opened less than a year ago at Dundas and Carlaw where they have quickly become a welcomed edition to the Chic Leslieville neighbourhood. Fruitful Market stocks daily essentials from fresh produce, dairy, meat and grocery items to coffee and prepared salads and sandwiches for take-out.
The owner, Yannis Banks, comes from a finance background but has always loved food and grew up working in his mother’s restaurant. A couple of years ago, Yannis worked with an organic fertilizer company that led him to research organic agriculture and he became very aware of soil health and how greatly it can affect the nutrition in produce. Thus, Fruitful Market was created out of a desire to find and supply truly nutrient-dense food and the concept has evolved to include a kitchen where the produce brought in can have two functions/purposes.
Thank you for having the time to talk with me! I’ll start this off with an easy question: what’s your favourite vegetable or fruit?
Honestly it’s hard to pick just one. One under appreciated vegetable would be cabbage, so right now we’re trying to promote it. It’s still locally available and very cheap. We try to offer not just organic, but also good value and the best way to do that is to look at what’s locally available and unaffected by USA-Canada exchange rates. Jerusalem artichokes would be another great example. Very few people buy them off the shelves because they don’t know about them or have never tried them before, but when we use them in a salad people love them. It gives us a chance to showcase lesser known produce.
You touched upon it, but what exactly is Fruitful Market’s Philosophy?
I think a lot about that and it’s evolving. The store started as a way find and promote nutritionally dense food. Cabbage, apples, etc. are actually mineral and vitamin depleted compared to where they were 50 to 100 years ago. The way to get those nutrients back is by restoring them into the soil and promoting that healthy soil ecosystem. We try to partner with farms that are similarly minded, looking to create a healthy ecosystem and therefore healthy crops.
That would be one of the big under pinning’s of fruitful market, but at the same time we are a small market in a high density urban neighbourhood and we try to be a positive contributor to the neighbourhood. From the way we have designed the store, to our staff who are genuinely interested and passionate about agriculture and health. Over half our staff has worked on an organic farm, so as a team we offer knowledge that people can tap into, just to be a friendly place in the neighbourhood.
You’re defiantly succeeding at that! I know about you guys because my boyfriend works around the corner and everyone in his office loves coming here for lunch.
That’s so good to hear because it’s exactly what we’re going for, to be a positive participate in the neighbourhood and to help build a sense of community.
To me, healthy doesn’t need to be organic, so what are the benefits of organic?
From everything I’ve read, the main benefit of organic is you do seem to reduce the amount of chemicals in your food, so that to me is the main benefit. Most of the sites I have read say that organic is more nutritious overall. So the organic standard does speak to soil management and managing it sustainably. I think that’s a part of what we’re trying to do, to work with farms that try to take that a step further, and farmers who are really committed to growing for nutrient density.
I know it’s winter so there isn’t much growing in Ontario right now, but you do work with 2 farms in particular in the summer months?
Yeah, we do work with two farms. One is Foggy River farm and the other is Tycoed Restorative Farm. They’re both small farms with a permit culture philosophy. And again, very environmentally minded, and very soil minded. For me it was hugely educational, they’ve been a tremendous source of knowledge for the store. Besides getting kale and such, it’s been beneficial in so many other ways.
So what produce are you getting from them? Is there anything particularly special?
Back when Foggy River was growing, they were growing all kinds of really amazing and interesting greens. There was one, for example, called Bloody Dock that we were trying to promote. It has red veining through it, and looks a little bit like a beet top. Actually we were working with them to create a red salad mix. It’s not available right now, but we hope to bring it back in the spring. They were growing amazing arugula, mustard greens, and dandelion. So red greens, bitter greens, they were all fantastic and full of flavour.
Is there anything Organic in particular that is hard to acquire?
It’s gotten a bit better, but what we noticed over the last few months was that broccoli and cauliflower in particular became ridiculously expensive. Broccoli is a popular vegetable, so we actually more or less took it off the menu because it was so expensive it wasn’t viable to maintain our price point. So those were, even when available, extremely challenging to get.
Stuff like tomatoes right now, you can get them but again they’re extremely expensive and tasteless since they’re not in season. We carry these things because people look for them and we want to be convenient and have them. But if you look at our salad bar, you will see cabbage, carrots, some imported greens, and beans. We try to stay away from stuff that isn’t seasonal. Generally, nowadays everything is available but it just comes down to what price and quality.
How do you find competing with non-organic producers, like Subway sandwiches right beside you?
To be honest I think there’s a market for both. Subway has a market that’s different than our own. Obviously the ingredients we use are going to be more expensive than the ones subway uses, so I try not to compete on price. We try to offer good value for the quality of food we sell, and we are strategic in terms of the choices we make. For example through the winter we have made a ton of salads that focus on root vegetables. So I don’t really worry about it, some people will be driven by price point and that’s fine, but I think it’s been demonstrated that there are enough people in this neighbourhood who like and understand what we do.
Thank you very much for your time Yannis!
This was a fantastic opportunity to get to know a local producer. Especially since I am so apprehensive about the benefits of organic, talking to someone who is very passionate about organic produce, and what that means was very inspiring. This summer when I plant my own garden, I will definitely do more research about soil composition, and what that can mean for my own produce.