This morning I visited the opening day of the new Winchendon Springs Farmers Market, which, from what the organizers told me, burst into being within a few short weeks of its inspiration and has hit the ground running. It has good prices; an impressive variety of fresh produce; accepts SNAP (but not WIC--WIC is a stringent program, largely useful for peanut butter, cereal, infant formula and dairy products). We have another place in our "food desert" to buy healthy fresh food. Yay! Or maybe...yay?

There's nothing wrong with the new Farmers Market. But I find myself wondering--just how many specialized produce retailers can Winchendon support?

Right now we have: Not Just Produced; the Toy Town Outdoor Market; the Growing Places Mobile Market; and Sunset View Farm. Plus there's a small farm stand down on Rte 202 toward Templeton (near the empty space that was the Lucky Dragon restaurant) whose name, if any, escapes me. There are probably a few more in town, as well.

Fresh fruits and vegetables are important, but they're only part of a complete healthy diet for a community. In addition to this, some of these retailers are seasonal, closing in the fall and winter, and only offering the full spectrum of local harvests for a few months. What Winchendon still needs, and needs desperately, is a plain old, modest-sized, full service grocery store with affordable prices. You know what I mean--like a town general store. At least 1000 square feet. Sells not only produce, but a full range of dairy products, fresh meat and seafood, canned and jarred food, frozen food, baking supplies, dry goods and staples, and a reasonable amount of grocery-related supplies and equipment (baking dishes, paperware, etc).

Right now, you can buy some of these things at Cumby's, convenience stores, CVS and Walgreens, but the selection is very limited and the prices are very high. You can buy a few non-perishable groceries, and dry goods, in Family Dollar, and the prices are low, but...caveat emptor.

As seems to be the chronic pattern here in Toy Town, all sorts of people with good intentions just can't seem to get their heads together and collaborate. Meanwhile, we're benefiting from programs run by out of towners. The HEAL Winchendon project seems meritorious, but it's organized and controlled by a non-profit in Leominster. Winchendon should have its own non-profits focused on this town and its unique challenges. Where are the people who can step up and coordinate a real store here?

The new Farmers Market is run by a non-profit, so they plan to keep their prices low and expand without being held back by the notoriously tiny profit margins in the retail food business. A town "general store" could be a non-profit, too. And a "general store" could be actively working with all our fresh produce retailers, helping them sell more of their produce over a longer period of time. Isn't it long past time we made this a town priority?

Just a thought.

Inanna Arthen