TORONTO, Ontario — Every day, 250,000 Toronto residents drive past the Ontario Food Terminal, unaware that 5.4 million pounds of fresh produce a day flow through there.
On Sept. 22, the 58-year-old terminal welcomed the public to the first Fresh Fest, organized by the Ontario Produce Marketing Association, Toronto Wholesale Produce Association and the Ontario Food Terminal Board.
An estimated 4,000 people visited the showrooms of major wholesalers, met Ontario growers in the outdoor farmer’s market and feasted on fresh salads and Ontario corn on the cob for a $10 ticket.
“It’s amazing and long overdue,” said John Russell, president of berry importer J.E. Russell Produce Ltd., as locals lined up to buy $1 clamshells of organic Berry Bowl strawberries ($3.99 retail).
“It’s good PR for all of us,” said Russell. “People don’t understand how the terminal fits into the food production distribution chain.”
All money raised at Food Fest goes to FoodShare Toronto, a nonprofit community food organization that spent $1 million at the terminal last year for school programs and Good Food boxes.
Tomato King president Vince Carpino gave many their first taste of a warm grilled California chestnut, while his staff handed out slivers of fresh California figs and whole Ontario squash to take home.
At Fresh Taste Produce Ltd., which offered figs, brothers Julian and Christian Sarraino proudly introduced their wares.
“Every person who walks in says they’ve never seen produce this fresh before,” said Christian Sarraino, vice president of procurement.
“They’re asking how to choose figs,” he said, “and they’re blown away by the big bunches of Italian grapes, which we see every day.”
Strawberries and raspberries from Driscoll Strawberry Associates Inc. were dipped in a chocolate fountain and baked into tarts at Italian Produce Co. Ltd.
John Sheridan, in sales and purchasing at F.G. Lister & Co. Ltd., handed out pomegranates from Dee Slayman’s farm in Bakersfield, Calif.
“Just crack them open!” Sheridan advised anyone who asked what to do with them.
In a covered walkway normally filled with forklifts, Pear Bureau Northwest sampled starkrimson and bartlett pears and urged consumers to “Check the Neck,” the group’s slogan about choosing fruit.
In the farmers market area, John Denboer surveyed the scene as staff gave away bags of red beets and carrots with his business card tucked inside, and children climbed into the cabs of two tractors he brought in for the day.
“This is one of those moments where you can bring growers and the public closer together,” said Denboer, president of the 270-acre Denboer Family Farm in Otterville, two hours southwest of Toronto.
“I’m amazed at the turnout,” he said. “We should do this once a year.”