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This afternoon (if you're reading this on Thursday) scores of farmers, restauranteurs, foodies, and community builders are gathering to honour Sandra Trainor. This woman's diligent activism has changed everything from seeds in the soil to food in our mouths in Simcoe County.

Sandra Trainor is moving to Sault Ste Marie to join her biologist husband in his new MNR (Ministry of Natural Resources) management role. The Soo is where Sandra started life in her first family. And while Barrie has become home, Sandra is moving back to her roots.

Today, Sandra is being thanked for her attention to roots, the kinds that farmers plant and harvest and the kinds that we cook and eat. In between are a microcosm of processors, often so complex that we eat food without ever realizing how or from whom it came to us.

In 2004 Sandra met with Morris Gervais of Barrie Hill Farms, Bruce Chappell of Chappell Farms, and Nottawasaga Futures, as well as a Health Unit representative. Purpose was to find a better way for people to connect to the farmers who grow their food, for people to buy food that's grown locally, to make it easy and accessible to support farmers in our region so that we have farmers in our region.

Seems like a simple concept but Sandra took the bull by the horns (figuratively!) wrote a grant application and got funding to develop an organization called Simcoe County Farm Fresh. Finding local food, identifying growers, making it easy and desirable to buy local and buy fresh. Sandra mobilized OMAFRA (Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food), and got connected to federal funding. The idea caught on and so did support.

This was 10 years ago. From that kitchen table discussion, Simcoe County Farm Fresh has become a model of how to connect farmers to chefs to kitchen tables to farmers markets to people.

Sandra's first bid for funding was for 3 years to get the organization off the ground, to develop a website featuring local growers and programs, a map identifying all growers and their locations, and to hire Sandra to pilot the project forward. Farmers want to farm; they don't want to run organizations. It's a perfect symbiosis with Sandra representing farmers and farmers connecting through food.

While she officially began her work as one day a week, Sandra had other clients for her communications business, but in reality she was working much, much more. That first year, 20 food producers lined up to be members. Today over 100 growers are on the 2014 map, just coming off the press now.

It's all about food. Food retailers, micro processors, caterers, markets have associate memberships while the growers themselves form the core group. Their success is due to help from many sources. Simcoe County GIS helped develop the first map, Simcoe County tourism, museum, library networks all actively distribute the map. The museum is the location for the very popular Savour Simcoe... the annual end-of-summer event that pairs growers with chefs for a terrific dining experience. In fact, Savour Simcoe received the Ontario Tourism's Ontario Culinary Event of the Year for 2013.

Simcoe County Farm Fresh holds four events a year to connect food growers to food operators to bring more local food to local menus. SCFF's (www.simcoecountyfarmfresh.ca) website is very well travelled, with 20,000-50,000 unique visits per month. An aggressive social media campaign rounds out promotion and marketing.

This project is economic development in its most basic form...and the easiest to find and support.

Sandra also encouraged Dufferin County Farm Fresh as that organization began its development. She talks about her 7 board of directors members--farmers, producers, restauranteurs--and how important their work is.

Event booths, public speaking presentations, helping people understand the importance of supporting our local food sector, of knowing the growers who supply our food...all this matters to Sandra Trainor.

"If you want to keep your land in food production, you have to support your local growers," she says. It's that simple. "It's important to keep our food sources close by and it has huge economic, environmental and security benefits to us as a region. We need to be able to feed ourselves."

With a business administration and marketing background, Sandra has pulled out all the stops in relentless pursuit of what has become a passion. Success breeds success, as they say, and Sandra is ready for a change. Her role has now become a 3 to 4 person job.

As we talked, I asked Sandra about her legacy. She's pleased about the community organization: respected and grassroots. She's proud of the difference SCFF has made for growers who now have profile and who have stepped up production. She lauds the local food movement and appreciation for local food. She feels local producers are validated about how much they matter. Roadside stands like Hewitts have ready recognition as local growers. And the local food service industry supports local producers... huge!

And what about her legacy to herself?

"My whole consciousness has changed. I now speak up about local food and pay attention. There's lots left to do and I feel torn about leaving... but agriculinary tourism has its roots in our soil now."

Sandra has that remarkable ability to see an opportunity and bring people together to work for the common good. Look out, Sault Ste Marie! And, thanks Sandra!

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