Local is as local does. That pretty much sums up Wendy Rickard’s current status as Pied Piper for locally grown, raised and produced edible products. Passionately health conscious with a penchant for cooking, the Wynnewood resident is the founder of Eating Fresh Publications, which develops the sort of products Rickard hopes will transform the way we think about food.
One of her biggest successes so far has come in the form of a tiny but informative pamphlet called “The Great News About Grass.” It was originally conceived as a marketing tool for The Grassfed Gourmet cookbook published by Eating Fresh in 2004. Since then, Rickard has distributed almost 100,000 copies of the pamphlet, mainly selling them to farmers who are seeking to promote the benefits of grassfed meats and dairy products. A revised edition has just been released with additional sponsorship. That impressive list now includes Animal Welfare Approved, the Weston A. Price Foundation, Natural by Nature Dairy Products, Eat Well Guide, Sustainable Table and the Socially Responsible Agriculture Project.
Rickard’s current project is The Grassfed Gourmet Fires It Up, featuring recipes by Maryland-based chef and author Rita Calvert. The book was originally slated for summer release, but the rigorous recipe-testing and copy-editing process means it may not be available until the end of the year.
Disappointed but undaunted, Rickard views the holdup as a typical bump in the road. “It’s not so much about getting it done on time—though that is a crucial element to surviving in this business—it’s about getting it right. You only get one chance to make an impression, and if I’m trying to convince people that grassfed is both better for you and tastes better, the recipes better prove it flawlessly.”
And since Rickard would like to take her pro-grassfed mindset beyond the kitchen so it enhances people’s lifestyles, the accuracy of her—and the book’s—message is critical.
Aside from her publishing venture, Rickard consults, writes and edits through her marketing communications company, the Rickard Group. Currently, she’s putting the final touches on the Internet Society’s annual report; editing, writing and producing pieces for IETF Journal, the newsletter of the Internet Engineering Task Force; and compiling a line of toolkits for the Internet Society’s international chapters to complement the handbook she did for them last year, plus producing and printing materials for its Next Generation Leaders program.
“It’s fascinating work—not just because it’s about the technical underpinnings and policy issues associated with the Internet, but because it’s so international,” says Rickard of her full slate of projects for the Internet Society. “It gives you a brand-new perspective when you realize that the most important technological development since the telephone is not entirely driven or shaped by American sensibilities or interests. It’s the great equalizer.”
Though Eating Fresh and Rickard do not have local roots, both are now based in Wynnewood, where Rickard has lived with her husband and two children since 2005. All three are willing guinea pigs for her culinary experiments and dietary modification. Other than the part about meeting a nice guy who happens to be from the Main Line, landing here was not by design. Neither, she says, was her career path.
Rickard graduated from New York’s Binghamton University in the early ’80s with a degree in English literature and a passport. After the requisite post-college European road trip, she returned to her parents’ house in Montclair, N.J., collected her (and a few of her parents’) belongings, and set about converting her recently wed sister’s Manhattan apartment into her personal sanctuary.
She’d barely applied the last coat of paint when her mother not-so-gingerly inquired if she’d given any thought to finding a job. “I remember thinking, ‘Oh, right! Good idea,’” Rickard says.
But the problem was that she had no idea what to do—other than to follow in her father’s footsteps in advertising. None too eager for another maternal kick in the pants, Rickard turned to the New York Times’ employment section, circled a few ads, took the bus downtown and walked into an employment agency.
“The rest is a bit of a blur,” says Rickard, who went on three interviews at big ad agencies. “Back then, if you were a woman, regardless of your education, you were given a typing test and a filing test. It’s a little embarrassing now, but at the time, I never gave the sexism I experienced any thought.”
After several years spent floating around SSC&B—the third largest advertising agency in the world at the time—Rickard was accepted into the Lee Strasberg Theatre & Film Institute in New York. From there, it was a circuitous route, from waiting tables to a brief stint in the placement department at the Fashion Institute of Technology, to a short time at a small publishing company in Trenton, N.J. Though only in her mid-20s, Rickard already felt stuck.
Then came the big break—literally—that ended up defining her career. She’d just started temping in Princeton, N.J., where she’d moved after leaving New York. The day before her job was to start, she fell and seriously sprained her ankle. She figured they’d give the job to someone else. To her surprise, the client said they’d wait. Two days later, she hobbled into her job on crutches.
Her new employer was Educom, a nonprofit consortium of colleges and universities that worked to advance higher education through information technology. It was 1987—pre-Internet—so the learning curve for Rickard was steep. “Not the marketing and publishing aspect—it was the technology,” she admits. “I had absolutely no understanding of what they were doing. There was talk about connecting scholars to other scholars via an electronic network. There were projects that simulated what later became spreadsheets. I was completely lost.”
A few years later, Educom moved to Washington, D.C., and they offered Rickard an opportunity to continue as a freelancer. It was all the motivation she needed to start her own company. Her first project was the Internet Society’s award-winning OnTheInternet magazine, which she produced and edited for five years. Her next big job came via a friend, Fran McManus, who was developing a book for a natural foods store.
“In those days, people were becoming familiar with the concept of organic, but no one was talking about local,” says Rickard. “My friend and I complained regularly about the ongoing development in the Princeton area and the disappearance of the farms. She was a big influence on my understanding of the importance of supporting local food systems.”
McManus came up with the novel idea of pitching a book to a New Jersey-based organic farming organization that would connect local chefs and local farmers, plus offer recipes. “She knew I could edit, and I was the market she was targeting,” says Rickard.
The project changed her life yet again. After they put the New Jersey book to bed, the two began working on the same concept in other regions of the country. The way Rickard saw it, locally sourced food was getting no publicity when they started, which put them ahead of the curve and afforded them the rare opportunity to actually help shape the conversation—all while creating products that would appeal to an increasingly savvy cookbook-buying public.
“It so resonated with me—this idea that you can motivate people to support local food systems by offering a positive message,” says Rickard. “People like great food, and they listen to chefs. So if the chefs are saying they work with farmers, the message had much more impact than if we preached about doing the right thing.”
To Rickard, “local” and “organic” are two different issues. Her Eating Fresh message prioritizes the former over the latter. “Local farmers are connected to their communities—and just because they’re not organic doesn’t mean they’re not farming responsibly,” she says. “They know many of the people who buy and eat their food. They have a stake in doing things right.”
For the next 10 years starting in 1998, Wendy Rickard went about “selling” her impassioned brand of foodie localism through Eating Fresh Publications. So far, there have been two regional cookbooks (San Francisco and the Mid-Atlantic), the Living Fresh Initiative, a series of talks and lectures, and the Grassfed Gourmet project—with more to come.
In the meantime, she also went through a divorce that, despite its challenges, left her feeling optimistic. And, really, there’s nothing she can say about juggling the responsibilities of work and single parenthood that hasn’t already been said.
“My parents lived around the corner, so my kids had someplace to go after school,” she recalls. “My parents offered a lot in the way of emotional support and the freedom for me to work without too much guilt. There were many times when I didn’t think I had the energy to keep the businesses going and debated getting out of Eating Fresh. But then I would attend an event, or a manuscript would appear, and I knew I couldn’t walk away.”
In 2004, Eating Fresh partnered with Teddy Gentry of the Grammy-winning country group Alabama—also a pasture-based farmer—to host Grazefest, an annual event and festival. And though her partnership with McManus dissolved in 2008, Rickard walked away with the Eating Fresh name and its products—not to mention an expert’s angle on pasture-based farming and how to promote it.
“In six years, we’ve influenced attitudes and customer behavior, and helped stimulate markets for a form of agriculture that is better for human health, the environment and the animals. We’re part of something that matters.”
Until she first started publicizing the Grassfed Gourmet Cookbook, Rickard didn’t fully appreciate the value of the relationships she had with farmers. In the first few years the book was out, Eating Fresh sold more copies to farmers than to bookstores or specialty stores.
“You never really know who or what your best avenues for reaching your audience may be,” says Rickard. “I regularly use the Epicurious.com app on my iPhone when I’m cooking, so I can easily envision an iPad-like device in every kitchen on which home-cooks can consult recipes and get detailed instruction on cooking techniques.”
Rickard continues to pursue ideas for new products—like notepads, grilling tools and post-it notes. She’s also considering a Grassfed Gourmet TV show.
“Eating Fresh is a company that advocates certain ways of thinking about food—and that can take many forms, from books to guides to TV and Web content,” says Rickard. “I follow my interests. And when I do that, I find solutions that might interest other people, as well. I don’t
produce anything that I wouldn’t want to read or experience myself.”
To learn more, visit eatingfresh.com.