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Old Posted Jul 9, 2008, 3:07 AM
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Neighbourhood market opens in Preston

Neighbourhood market opens in Preston
By Ray Martin

Jul 08, 2008

Nancy Strickland and Barb Clapham couldn't believe their eyes Friday morning as customers were lined up right around the corner to buy their farm fresh produce.

"It was unbelievable," said Strickland, "but it proves our point, we need fresh produce uptown."

Strickland and Clapham are two of the community volunteers who are helping to make the Preston Neighbourhood Market a success. The market opened June 27 in Central Park and within its first two hours of operation Preston residents had walked away with roughly 250 bags of locally grown farm produce.

Strickland attributes the success of the new market to the proximity of several seniors' apartment buildings, the Allan Reuter Centre and the pedestrian-friendly nature of Preston's core area.

Sanjay Govindaraj, a Waterloo Region public health planner, agrees. Govindaraj helped organize the health unit's neighbourhood market program to Cambridge this summer.

"We never anticipated this type of acceptance," he said. "The first week we

thought people were coming because of the novelty, but this shows there is a real interest in the community."

Govindaraj said that in selecting the location he referred to a GIS mapping program that showed a huge seniors' population around King Street, which led to the selection of Central Park.

"This is perfect, you can't get better than this," he said.

The goal of the neighbourhood markets program is to give people - who otherwise wouldn't have access to it - farm fresh produce and promote healthy eating.

The program spun out of a 2005 discussion paper which developed seven strategies to improve the health of Waterloo Region's food system. With the financial assistance of the Lyle S. Hallman Foundation the two-year program was launched in 2006 with two neighbourhood markets in Kitchener. This summer three more have been added, one in Kitchener's Chicopee neighbourhood and two more in Preston. The other Preston neighbourhood market has been set up at the Preston Height's Community Centre on the Preston Parkway.

Erica Campbell is the market co-ordinator for the three new markets and of the three the Central Park location is the busiest.

"The Preston Heights location is definitely slower than this, but it's doing all right for its second week," Campbell said. "The Chicopee market is also doing well."

The food sold at the neighbourhood markets is all grown in Waterloo Region and is purchased at auction from the Elmira Produce Co-operative and the markets operate as a not-for-profit venture.

Volunteer Barbara Clapham, a Preston Towne Centre business improvement association director, said her organization has fully endorsed the neighbourhood market program.

"We're very happy with it," she said. "We didn't realize how much Preston wanted or needed it. We started setting up at 10:30 and people were already here waiting for us."

At Friday's market the volunteers had stocked their tables with 20 different products, but within the first 90 minutes shoppers were down to just a dozen items to choose from.

"The Groove Kitchen has offered to purchase our left-over produce and we are in talks with a few others, but we are also giving what's left to the food bank and Argus House," she said.

It is the BIA's hope that the Friday markets will bring more people to King Street not just for the fresh produce but for all the shops and services, Clapham said. This Friday market goers will be walking through Preston's annual sidewalk sale to get to the market.

Clapham and Strickland said the bulk of the market's business is being done with seniors, but they are also seeing an increasing number of young families making purchases too.

"One of the things we are hoping for is that becomes a catalyst for a more permanent situation," she said.

The market at Central Park runs Fridays from noon to 5 p.m. while the Preston Heights location runs noon to 4 p.m.

On July 25, organizers are planning a grand opening for the market in Central Park.

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