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Since the loss of the Erie Food Co-op, downtown Erie has been a food desert for several months, but the Erie Downtown Partnership and others are making a major effort to provide healthy and affordable food options.

Starting Friday, the Downtown Partnership is partnering with the Erie Food Policy Advisory Council, Build CDC, Hamot Health Foundation, Grow and Glow Urban Collective, Wildfield Urban Farm, Erie Farm to School, Conscious Food Project at Raintree Farms and Groundwork Erie to provide sustainable food access to Erie.

The Downtown Partnership is hosting pay-what-you-can markets every Friday from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. at Perry Square through October 25.

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How does the pay-what-you-can concept work?

Dave Tamulonis of the Downtown Partnership said the Pay What You Can market is a model started by local farmers with multiple stalls in areas such as Buffalo Road and Parade Street.

“They collect excess and leftover produce from the market stalls of some farmers markets in the area, such as the Sisters of Saint Joseph, and there is one in Edinboro,” Tamulonis said. “They provide the produce that would otherwise just go to waste for free or as a pay-what-you-can donation. If people want to donate to that, they can support the model, or for those in need who don’t have easy access to fresh produce, it’s (available) for little to no cost.”

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What items are offered at these markets?

The produce is all locally sourced and varies from week to week depending on what is left over or surplus at the markets. Produce may include things like blueberries, pears, tomatoes and lettuce.

“We really don’t know what we’re going to have until they (the markets) collect all the stuff that comes up during the week,” Tamulonis said. “They’ll put leftover stuff in cold storage and restock it throughout the week and then fill up these ‘pay what you can’ booths.”

The stalls change their offerings every week. Some weeks there is fruit, other weeks a vegetable mix.

“That will change depending on what is in season and when it is not,” Tamulonis said. “So now you’ll see a lot of fruit in early summer. I’ve heard from some farmers that the season is starting about 10 to 14 days earlier because of the heat we’ve had.”

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Get help with meal ideas from the market

Wondering what to make with your haul from the market this week? Farmers give you suggestions and tips to help you get the most out of your haul.

“The farmers there will suggest what you could do with selected products,” Tamulonis said. “They are very knowledgeable about food, so if you are not sure how much you need or what you need for the week, they can help you with that. You can come with little money or with farm vouchers. They also accept WIC vouchers and senior citizen vouchers. We have an equivalent of what those are used for.”

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Contact Nicholas Sorensen at [email protected].