One of the many dividing lines between youth and adulthood is one’s ability to break your weekly sleeping routine when Saturday morning rolls around. It’s become tough to accept that the life stage of sleeping ’til noon on the weekend has definitely passed me by, but while some earlier risers use their free Saturday mornings to walk the dogs, cut the grass, or visit the gym, I use mine to secure a week’s supply of the city’s best muffins.
When the bell rings at 8 a.m. on Saturday morning to signify the opening of the downtown Crescent City Farmers Market, chances are that a line has already formed in front of the Windfield Farm Bakery stand. Seasoned customers know that the limited supply of sugar-dusted lemon blueberry, raisin-filled morning glory muffins and the almond-covered chocolate mocha muffins will likely be gone by 9. Late risers will have to settle for a breakfast of almond scones, wide and thin chocolate chip cookies, or dense brownies. No consolation prize ever tasted so good.
Baking has always been a part of Suzie Banck’s life. She and her husband Robert home-schooled their six children, and part of her routine with the kids included baking bread every Monday. One day, her daughter Robin said, “Mom, you need to start a bread business.” Suzie thought a family business would be a great lesson for the kids in economics and business management, so in 1992 the seeds for Windfield Farm Bakery were sewn.
That first year, the Banck family baked six loaves of bread per day, either white or honey wheat, and delivered to 16 customers on consignment, most of them open air markets or vegetable stands. But business quickly grew through their expanding relationship with local farmers, and Suzie’s creative itch necessitated an extension of the product line. She even enrolled at the French Culinary Institute in New York to learn artisan breads such as ciabatta and the French batard, the wider cousin of the classic baguette.
In 1993, the family purchased their farm in Franklinton, and the added space was much needed. “We had flour sacks stacked up in our living room,” recalls Robert. The newly purchased property included an old milk barn, which Suzie originally wanted torn down. In 1998, a contractor friend helped restore the barn into a fully operational bakery, complete with brick-lined ovens.
“We also use steam, which I think makes for one of the best baguettes I have ever tasted from this region,” Suzie says.
All six of the Banck children have worked in the bakery. “At one point we had the terrible twos, teenagers, and mid-life crisis all under the same roof,” laughs Robert. Today, their son Christian handles baking duties along with Lucine James, the only Windfield Farm employee without the last name Banck, although she is undoubtedly part of the family. Lucine started working for the Banck family 30 years ago as a nanny for the children, but for the past 12 years she has been an integral member of the bakery.
Windfield Farm has held on to its connection with local producers and growers. When the Crescent City Farmers Market held its inaugural market in 1995, Windfield Farm Bakery was there. Same goes for the opening of the Covington Farmers’ Market in 1996. All of the butter used at the bakery comes from fellow CCFM vendor Smith Creamery. Those lemon blueberry muffins are available year round thanks to a generous supply of blueberries from multiple vendors.
There was a point though, when the bakery was almost entirely self- sufficient. “We used to grind our own wheat,” Suzie says with a look of both pride and dumbfounded hindsight. “When we bought the farm, it included a huge mill which could hold 50 pounds of wheat berries at a time.” Eventually, the Bancks found a flour supplier to their liking, and the mill was sold to a feed store in Franklinton. But they still raise chickens for eggs, which add richness to lemon squares that toe the perfect line between tart and sweet.
While the baking business has proved to be a successful educational experience for the children and a welcome source of income for the family, money is clearly not the Banck’s primary motivation. “I would give everything away if it was up to me,” proclaims Suzie.
“Fortunately, it’s not up to you,” Robert replies with a smile. Just another family business lesson.
You can find Windfield Farm Bakery at the Crescent City Farmers’ Market on Tuesday mornings at Tulane Square and on Saturday mornings at the William B. Reily parking lot in the CBD, at the Covington Farmers’ Market on Saturday mornings at Covington City Hall, or on Wednesday mid-day at The Covington Trailhead, and at Jazz ‘n Vines Pontchartrain Vineyards.