Bre's Fresh Market moves to north Broadway

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Breann Gillespie, owner of Bre's Fresh Market, knows location is important.

That's why she loves her new high-traffic store on north Broadway, located between the Tim Hortons and North Broadway Car Wash.

What started as a sweet corn stand has changed venues over the last six summers. She also added a variety of fruits and vegetables to their fresh summer produce.

"We've transitioned it to Fresh Market because we've gone to so much more than sweet corn," said Gillespie. "This will be our sixth year. It's been a transition, slowly, from a picnic table and canopy at the car wash on the corner of Concession and Tillson. Last year I moved across the street on Tillson Ave from Chrissy's Corner Store, the old car lot. Now we're going to the store at 584 Broadway to hopefully cut down on some of the setup and takedown time."

Last summer her staff spent up to three hours on setup and takedown... daily.

"About an hour-and-a-half to set up in the morning, and it took about an hour-and-a-half to take it down at night. Every day, just to get everything out and cleaned up. That was after about two hours to pick up fresh food every morning. It was getting to be too much, so when we had the offer to go into the front of this (Broadway) building, we jumped on it, just so we can close things up at the end of the night. There will still be a lot of things to put away in the cooler, but we'll save a lot of time not having to move the display or anything like that. So we're pretty excited about it."

It also gives them the opportunity to have fridge and freezer space on display.

"Now that we have this store, we're taking the opportunity to bring in Norpac Meats. And selling cheese from Woodstock, so it's opened the door to try to sell other local products."

Her north Broadway location will officially open Monday, June 30, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. and will be open Monday to Friday 11-6 through the summer, and 9-6 on Saturdays.

"We will not have corn right away, but we wanted to start with some berries."

Bre's Fresh Market operates a little different from typical farmers markets, said Gillespie, where everybody brings their own products. At Bre's, Gillespie purchases products directly from farmers, nearly a dozen in total, at wholesale prices and resells at an affordable price in town.

She ranges up to 30-50 km to get to her farmers, the furthest being Simcoe and Woodstock areas.

"All within Oxford and Norfolk Counties. If they have a good peach crop in Norfolk, I know I'll be bringing in peaches. There will probably be 20-30 different fruits and vegetables, depending on the season."

The plan is to start with strawberries and greenhouse cucumbers and peppers. As fruits and vegetables ripen in the fields and orchards, they will be introduced at Bre's.

"Whatever is 'in season,' we'll be bringing it in. As long as we can get it in our local area."

Gillespie's network of farmers has grown over the years through research in the offseason, and communicating with the farmers.

"I started with six farms, and each of them gave me an additional farm to call and try. It's definitely a lot of networking because there's quite a few little farms that have wonderful operations, but don't do a lot of advertising. And the older generation doesn't necessarily do a lot on their website or online. So it takes the coffee-shop type talk to try to network and find other farms."

One of her priorities is finding certified farms that grade their products.

"Traceability is a big thing for us – it's knowing where the product came from. We have to know where it comes from, and we have to be happy with the food safety standards as well. If there are any issues, you know the source."

Gillespie, 27, grew up on a farm near Brownsville.

"My dad's (Eric VanMoerkerke) always grown sweet corn and green beans, and lima beans... and some others, but they've always gone for processing (eg. Green Giant). But people always wanted to try it."

While in university, Gillespie decided she wanted to try Ontario's young entrepreneur Summer Company Program. She convinced her dad to grow four acres of sweet corn so she could start a small business.

"The government program really helped me get it off the ground, and taught me a lot of the business aspects of it. Then every year it kept evolving, and people wanted more. People would say, 'Hey, what else do you have?' And I just had corn. Then I brought in some raspberries. Then my grandma started bringing things from her garden and it kept growing. This year, people will still be asking for other products, and that night I will try my hardest to find them.

"It's a big job and it takes a lot of management. All the food is perishable. You could sell a lot, but if you have a couple flats of berries left over, that's your profit. It's definitely a lot of management."

After graduating, she has juggled full-time job and young family with the Market. She gets by with a lot of family support – including her husband Kyle, her brother Evan (and Jessica Bell), her dad Eric, and mom, Carol.

"Everybody has their duties, and there's a lot of work that's been done by the time we open in the morning.

"I just feel like I can't let people down, people are expecting me to be there. I love the customer service, social aspect of it. You make connections, you meet people in the community. We are in such a rich farm country, and since Luciani's left, there really hasn't been that farm market store where you can get local produce. Trying to make that available to people, that's my drive."

The Tillsonburg Farmer's Market at the Station Arts Centre is great, said Gillespie, but it is limited to only one day.

"We're open six days a week and always trying to have the fresh food when people want it rather than having to wait until Saturday."

chris.abbott@sunmedia.ca

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