A hand-drawn Fresh West Market poster hung proudly on the front doors of Edith Cavell Public School in St. Catharines, letting parents and students know that market orders were due. Fresh West, aptly named by the students in Ms. Edward’s grade 4/5 class, is an affordable fresh food market serving families in Western Hill St. Catharines. Fresh West is one of our newest additions to the Community Pop-up Produce Market program in Niagara.

United Way staff joined MPP Jeff Burch, DSBN Superintendent Simon Hancox and Niagara Region Public Health staff for an informative presentation by Edith Cavell’s Fresh West student team led by Alison Edwards and “Nurse Austin” White. The presentation took us through every phase of planning and implementing the Community Pop-up Produce Market (CPPM) ‘school model’, something the team hopes to bring to more schools across the province.

The market stemmed from a class discussion focused on healthy eating, the local food system and food access points. Some of the children shared that their families often purchased groceries from the convenience store – the only store that sells food in their neighborhood. As many schools do, Edith Cavell sits in what we call a food desert, a place where food access is limited due to location or transportation.

hand drawn poster - headline fresh west market. Including brightly colored pictures of various fruits and vegetables.

Ms. Edward and their school public health nurse, Austin, began looking at ways to increase access to healthy food for the students and their families and quickly saw that the school itself was the central access point for their families. As part of the Ontario Healthy Schools Framework, Austin works with school staff and families to support the social, emotional and physical health and well-being of students and families in every neighborhood – it was from there that the idea for Fresh West was born.

It’s been amazing to see how this project has evolved over this school year, and how engaged the students are in the topic of food security. Following our assessment of our school and community, we determined our goal was to increase our communities’ access to fresh produce at an affordable price and alleviate the pressure of the rising cost of groceries. Not only were we able to meet that goal with the creation of our market, we have completed so much more. Thanks to the Grade 4/5 students in Ms. Edward’s class, Edith Cavell has become a central access point for fresh fruits and vegetables, and we now have a sustainable model that we hope will work in other communities!” – Austin White, RN, BScN, Public Health Nurse, Niagara Region Public Health

Austin worked closely with United Way’s Amanda Ali, Food Security & Market Projects Manager, to amend the current CPPM model to work for schools and the families they serve.

Austin and I brainstormed ways that could keep the market feel, but be logistically easy enough for the school teachers, administration, parents and students to execute,” said Amanda Ali. “We thought back to our own “pizza days” at school and decided to try out that approach for this market.

Fresh West operates on a collect-funds-first model, meaning families pay their $5 upfront, and the students work together to figure out exactly what to purchase and how much. Spending exactly what they have to work with, and with some extra help from United Way, this model means there is no food waste and they stay on budget every time. Staff and students receive ongoing support from United Way Market Coordinator Sara, who assists with coordination, brainstorming solutions to any challenges, and connecting them with other community partners to offer services, activities and resources for the school and their market.

“The Fresh West Market has grown larger than anything we could have imagined. This project has provided my students with so many rich authentic learning experiences. From branding to advertising, collecting data to budgeting as well as the benefits of eating healthy and the importance of buying local. Running the Market each month has provided them with such valuable life skills and leadership opportunities. We hope that the model they have developed is one that can be followed by other school communities with a similar need. They have become true leaders in our school and our community, and I am so proud of what they have created.” – Alison Edward, Grade 4/5 teacher, Edith Cavell Public School

The students of Ms. Edward’s grade 4/5 class are role models not just for their peers, but for the Niagara community. Their hard work to help bring Fresh West to life was so inspiring for all the adults involved. It took teamwork, collaboration, a lot of hard work and dedication to create a truly sustainable school market model. Thanks to their contributions, healthy affordable produce will be available to families that need it.

Community Pop-up Produce Markets are a great addition to neighborhoods and communities where fresh food is more difficult to access.

Learn more about United Way’s Growing Communities initiative or email [email protected].