Fresh produce market opens in shipping container in Moss Park

Inside a shipping container on the lawn of several Toronto Community Housing highrises, food advocates are trying to bring fresh, organic fruits and vegetables to people who have a hard time accessing them.

Market aims to bring organic fruits and vegetables to low income residents at an affordable price

Wali Barak runs the new Moss Park Market, a fresh produce market for low income people in a shipping container near Queen Street East and Sherbourne Street. (Victoria Valido/CBC)

In a shipping container in the shadows of towering highrise apartment buildings, food advocates have opened a produce market to bring fresh, healthy and affordable fruits and vegetables to people in the Moss Park neighbourhood.

The market is the result of advocacy by the neighbourhood's residents, said Lisa Kates, co-founder of the food advocacy organization Building Roots, which is behind the new Moss Park Market. Many in the neighbourhood, particularly in the Toronto Community Housing buildings, live on low incomes, and face mobility issues that can make it hard to access healthy food.

Kates and partner Darcy Higgins helped open the market last week, on the lawn of the buildings, near Queen Street East and Ontario Street.

"We both had the idea of bringing the food to the residents, rather than the residents having to go find fresh fruits and vegetables to feed themselves and their families," said Kates.

The shipping container, donated by the company Storstac, is insulated, with air conditioning and heating that will allow it to remain open year-round. If the market is successful, Kates and Higgins hope to set up others like it in other communities around the city.

The new Moss Park Market sits in a re-purposed shipping container in the yard of several Toronto Community Housing highrise buildings. (Victoria Valido/CBC)

Wali Barak runs the market. He's no stranger to the business or the neighbourhood, having run a popular farmers' market in nearby Regent Park for nearly 17 years.

Running the market in a shipping container, rent-free, allows him to offer organic produce at a more affordable price for those living on low incomes. "Since we came last week, everybody is so happy in Moss Park and they were appreciative, and they say the prices are great," he said.

In addition to lower prices, Barak said he tries to provide the community with a wide variety of produce, such as bitter melon, long squash and plantains.

"Here, there are people coming from different places over the world… that's why I bring everyone what they were eating back home," he said.

However, according to Barak, the Moss Park Market isn't just about bringing cheap or diverse food to people. It's also about bringing them together.

"This kind of activity introduces people to each other and [they] get to know each other," he said. "They exchange their culture, they share their food together."

"It brings them together as a good team, as one team, and in the future, when their children are grown up, they are all under one umbrella."