TORONTO — Just before the Ontario Food Terminal opened its gates for its first Fresh Fest last September, a wholesaler turned to the terminal’s general manager, Bruce Nicholas, and asked, “Do you think anyone will come?”

Nicholas, who had spent hours the night before with his team readying the terminal for its public debut, simply pointed to the line of cars forming at the front gate beyond the loading docks.

By the end of the afternoon, some 3,500 curious Torontonians had wandered through the sprawling terminal surrounded by the trucks they pass daily on the highway.

“We really wanted to help consumers realize the significance of the terminal in their lives,” Nicholas said, “and I think we succeeded.”

Although everyone involved is eager to host another open house, he said it won’t be possible this year with construction to enclose the loading docks set to begin by summer.

While last fall’s visitors ate their way through the wholesale showrooms, munched fresh salads and wandered through the outdoor farmers market, Nicholas said most were unaware that longtime employee Richard McBurney died of a heart attack while working at the event.

The day raised close to $40,000 for FoodShare Toronto, a nonprofit agency that works to improve access to healthy, affordable food from field to table.

John Russell, president of J.E. Russell Produce Ltd., was one of many wholesalers surprised and delighted by the turnout.

“We didn’t try hard to promote it ahead of time because we really didn’t know what to expect,” said Russell.

“I think we all enjoyed being in the limelight for a few hours.”

Visitors had plenty of questions, he said. They wanted to know where the produce he sells comes from and how it gets to the Toronto terminal.

“They also asked how they can tell if organic produce really is organic.”

Most were overwhelmed by the quality and volume of product they saw, he said, and by its freshness.

Vince Carpino, president of Tomato King, said he’s looking forward to making the next event bigger and better.

“I think $40,000 is a drop in the bucket,” he said. “If we’re well-prepared and have more activities, maybe sell some produce or make up gift baskets, I’m sure we can raise even more money for charity.”

The event was organized by the Ontario Produce Marketing Association, Toronto Wholesale Produce Association and the Ontario Food Terminal Board.