Monthly Simi Valley farmers market provides free produce for the community

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Monthly Simi Valley farmers market provides free produce for the community

Bill Oliver of Simi Valley passes out free oranges at Simi at the Garden's free farmers market on Nov. 20. Photo credit: Justin Downes

Bill Oliver of Simi Valley passes out free oranges at Simi at the Garden's free farmers market on Nov. 20. Photo credit: Justin Downes

Bill Oliver of Simi Valley passes out free oranges at Simi at the Garden's free farmers market on Nov. 20. Photo credit: Justin Downes

Bill Oliver of Simi Valley passes out free oranges at Simi at the Garden's free farmers market on Nov. 20. Photo credit: Justin Downes

By Justin Downes

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Simi at the Garden held their monthly farmers market on Tuesday Nov. 20 which gives free fruit and vegetables to the public.

The giveaway is made possible by Food Forward, a volunteer group that gathers 435,000 pounds of unused produce each week from Ventura County farms and the Los Angeles Food Market, which is then donated to various hunger relief agencies in Southern California.

4 Volunteer Kiara Shah, 7, Nov. 26 .jpg

Volunteer Kiara Shah, 7, of Simi Valley helps pass out free food on Nov. 26. Photo credit: Justin Downes

Simi at the Garden’s President Jodie Francoeur said they began partnering with Food Forward in Oct. of 2017.

“Once a month they ship the fruit and vegetables directly to us. We give 50% to local agencies, and the other 50% we give to the public,” Francoeur said.

Simi Valley resident Berdie McCarroll is a regular volunteer at the market and helps pass out the food.

“I’ve been working at the garden for a year and a half and really enjoy it. It’s a great way to help out and interact with the community,” McCarroll said.

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Volunteer Berdie McCarroll of Simi Valley helps pass out peppers at Simi at the Garden's free farmers market Nov. 20.

Simi at the Garden is the creation of Simi Valley resident Salina Perry. As a Public Health and Education student she wanted to create a local garden that would teach people how to grow their own food. Located on property owned by a Seventh Day Adventist church, the garden officially started in 2011.

The food giveaway is part of a larger project called Garden of Dreams that provides the local community with education and health services, as well as job training and therapy to those struggling with mental illness.

Nurse Edwin Guerrero helped patients in a mobile medical clinic from the Ventura Health Care Agency, which attends the free farmers market each month.

“We give flu shots, and blood pressure and glucose level tests to anyone regardless of their income,” Guerrero said.

The free farmers market happens on the fourth Tuesday of each month at 2 p.m. and is open to the public. Some selections of the produce included apples, oranges, pineapples, tomatoes, lettuce, eggplant and celery.

Simi at the Garden has also partnered with Big Brothers Big Sisters Ventura County which provides after school opportunities for youth to learn gardening skills. The program educates local youth on ways to grow their own food as well as the importance of eating healthy, organic fruits and vegetables.

Simi Valley resident Millie Pimentel said she’d only recently heard of the free market and had attended for the first time in September.

“This is a fantastic event for the community. I’ve got olive trees on my property and would like to donate the olives to help give back what I got today,” Pimentel said.

2 Volunteers Gene Hayden & Niyati Shah of Simi Nov. 26.jpg

Gene Hayden and Niyata Shah from Simi Valley volunteer at Simi at the Garden's free farmers market on Nov. 26. Photo credit: Justin Downes

Simi Valley resident and volunteer Bill Oliver says the garden is trying to raise awareness about the program.

“We’ve got a lot of great people involved but we could use more help,” stated Oliver.

Simi at the Garden is located at 1636 Sinaloa Road in Simi Valley. For more information on ways to donate food or volunteer visit the webpage here.