If you talk to Amy Willis about the Full Bellies concept she will tell you that her progress has been an organic experience. Three years ago Full Bellies was essentially a group of friends buying food in bulk. As Amy is the mother to 8 kids, I can certainly understand this effort! Amy grew her bulk food group into a small business that served 40 people by operating out of her van. She then moved to a 37-ft bus serving a hundred but outgrew this in mere months. She opened her first store in St. Isidore serving three hundred people a week.
The business again grew “organically” and now Full Belly volunteers operate other stores and drop-off locations around Eastern Ontario. Amy had been prepping box orders for Cornwall when she was approached by Laurie St. Pierre about trying a Full Bellies mart at the mall. The location is perfect and it will be really interesting to see how Full Bellies evolves in Cornwall.
The focus of the business is to provide fresh and nutritious fruits, vegetables, and local meats at affordable prices. When possible Amy buys from local suppliers and farmers. The caveat is that her cost has to be around the same price as “imported” food (non-local). The selection changes weekly based on costs and availability, but the store always tries to stock basics like potatoes, carrots, onions, cabbage etc.
What sets Full Bellies apart is its inexpensive pricing and unique approach to sourcing food. They start by purchasing “ugly food” which is less expensive because it is less appealing to high-end grocery store customers. This can include misshapen food, oversized veggies and produce that is dirty because it is field picked. In an effort to reduce waste, blemished food is cut up to remove defects and packaged into products like stir fry kits. Peelings, cut bits and food past its prime are saved for animal food bins and if something is really rotten, only then is it relegated to the garbage.
Full Bellies offers food education and exploration through its volunteers, who answer questions about the more exotic fruit and veggies that occasionally grace its shelves. The Full Bellies Facebook group features taste-testing videos and recipes and tips shared by the Willis family, volunteers and customers.
Full Bellies is made possible by groups of volunteers who believe in the concept and the value of their services to the community. While volunteers are welcome to take produce for their weekly needs Amy looks for the genuine type of volunteer – one who falls in love with the program and is happy to be part of it. Full Belly volunteers become a community. They tend to morph into local groups of friends who enjoy seeing each other and working together.
When I asked Amy how she made it work financially she told me that it “magically” balanced itself out. They do a fair bit of fundraising and clients with more often donate extra so that those with less can be supported. Overall, this is a great example of an intelligent community-supported business venture that benefits all. We wish them the very best of luck.
Full Bellies is located on the ground floor next to Continental Liquidation and they are open Saturdays from 12 noon to 4 pm. Depending on demand and volunteer availability – the hours might grow.