Win! Win! Win!

For 16 weeks now Barrie residents have been able to buy all of their fresh fruits and vegetables and organic meat from farmers who till their fields and feed their animals within miles of Barrie. We've been able to do this for years at the Saturday Barrie Farmers' Market. But 16 weeks ago, Tuesday afternoons joined the calendar for a pilot project which has flown well.

A Farmers' Market opened at the Outpatients Entrance to Royal Victoria Hospital in June and has been serving all its shoppers all summer. The final day is next Tuesday.

It's been a success on all counts.

People who work at the hospital have been buying their week's supply of fresh fruits and vegetables, eggs and meat from 10-12 farmers represented by five stalls. Farmers are supporting each other by carrying and selling product from more than one farm in their booth, enabling each farmer to tend to business AND participate in this important 'test' project. The hospital's over 1,500 volunteers have also been picking up their produce on Tuesday afternoons. Add to that workers in the Quarry Ridge buildings, students at nearby Georgian College, the families of patients inside the hospital and you have one very successful pilot project.

It all began when the food and nutrition director from Orillia's Soldiers Memorial Hospital contacted Simcoe County Farm Fresh spokesperson, Sandra Trainor, to explore how to get the best local food onto the plates of hospital patients. Sandra brought Brenda Murray, Barrie's Royal Victoria Hospital (RVH) food and nutrition advisor in on the discussions.

Catalyst for the idea came from the 100 km challenge to lower our food costs and our polluting practices by buying food grown within 100 km of home. The plan calls for a change in eating habits where consumers eat what's in season when it's in season and does not buy it out of season when it's imported from a great distance... (garlic from China? Why, when we have excellent garlic growers right on our back doorstep).

The Farm Fresh organization (www.simcoecountyfarmfresh.ca) worked with its member farmers to launch a Tuesday afternoon market which opened with asparagus season in mid-June and closes early October as the root crops reach their bounty.

What's been available? Meat like pork, chicken, beef, lamb. Fruit such as strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, apples, plums. Vegetables aplenty, with early asparagus, salad greens, onions, peppers, garlic, carrots, potatoes, cucumbers, parsnips, squash, peas, beans, swiss chard, spinach, herbs... as vegetables matured, they were loaded into vehicles and brought to the RVH market. "I just bought greens today, grown by John Williams from Pine House Farms near Midland. He picked it this morning and it'll last here for days because it's so fresh. There's a huge difference in taste!" says Sandra.

While the market has received a nod of approval from the employees, volunteers and visiting families at RVH, it's planned for 2009, with some changes.

"RVH is a great location because it's a high traffic area and the Outpatients Level has huge overhangs for protection from the weather," says Sandra. People also don't have to pay to park; they can virtually do a 'drive-by.' As the group looks to 2009's market, there are plans for increased signage and promotion.

Sandra is pleased with the results, though. The group may offer one more market indoors during the pre-Christmas season. Other hospitals have expressed interest in having a market at their sites and the group will consider this as well.

Big advantage is that RVH's Brenda Murray was able to introduce the project as a workplace wellness initiative to promote local food and nutritious eating. RVH purchased most of its fresh food for preparation for patients from local farmers as well.

It's a different kind of buying experience, meeting the people who grow your food. People have responded well and will still be able to buy meat and eggs from local producers all winter. Sandra is optmistic that participating farmers will want to repeat this next summer.

Win-win-win. The farmers win because they develop new markets. The shoppers win because they're getting the freshest of foods. And the environment wins because we're meeting the 100 km challenge. The community keeps on winning on Sunday October 26 from 11 am to 3 pm when Georgian College Dining Room is the meeting place for chefs and food producers for an eating extravaganza. Chefs will prepare specialties in this Savour Simcoe, the Flavours of Fall event. It's a unique opportunity to meet face-to-face with 15 Simcoe County producers who grow our food, Georgian College chefs who will showcase this food with sample menus, and the ticket buying public who get the enjoy the results. Check out the farmfresh website for details.

Thanks, Simcoe County farmers. And thanks, Sandra, for being the common link to it all.

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