Alexis Jenssen will tell you upfront she’s a food person.
“I think food has always been a big part of my life,” she says. “I’ve always thought food is that bridge that connects people and cultures across the board.”
Food is one way Jenssen adjusted to living in Apex after moving from Portland six months ago. Having chosen the area because it reminded her family of her Oregon neighborhood, she quickly searched for a nearby farmers market to shop for local ingredients. Jenssen discovered Apex’s, then noticed it was looking for a manager. She applied on a whim and was hired shortly after.
Now, Jenssen works every day to prepare the Apex Farmers Market for its spring opening next week. There’s a lot to plan as the market ends its six-month-long hiatus for winter. She’s finalizing schedules for the season, configuring where new vendors will set up stations, and promoting the opening across many platforms.
As the market enters its fourth season under the current organizational structure, its recent boom may surprise some Apex residents. Local poultry farmer Lynn Andreas is one of the longest tenured vendors and remembers the market’s poor state just a few years ago, when the small business owners had to both run it and sell products.
“It underwent some real struggles and left us with a handful of faithful vendors,” says Andreas. “We have grown tremendously from that handful to a thriving market in the last three years.”
Now, the market consistently draws in over a thousand visitors every Saturday morning when open, with sales increasing every year under the new structure. Both attendance and profits are expected to increase again this year, with 40 regular vendors now participating. As it grew, the farmers market’s board decided it was time to hire someone to handle logistics and marketing.
Board chair Val Creager was a key figure in restarting and sustaining the market three years ago. But responsibilities of being the chair, volunteer market manager, and volunteer social media coordinator quickly piled up. With Jenssen as the market manager, most of the burden is now gone, allowing Creager to focus more on her own small business and vendor station.
“Alexis was the perfect fit,” she says. “She has the management and non-profit experience we needed, plus graphic and web design skills and is a natural at networking. I think that her boundless energy, enthusiasm and passion are exactly what we need to push our market to the next level.”
That experience and energy are on display at Jenssen’s occasional meetings with the vendors, where she discusses the market’s overall goals and shares tips on branding. Vendor Megan Crist of the Triangle Pastry Co. says these meetings have helped her as she prepares to join Apex’s farmers market for the first time.
“The meetings were really nice for me because I got to see and meet other vendors,” says Crist, “not just look at an online list of who would be at the market with me. Alexis is very in tune with how to build connections and community, and we’re all so lucky to have her.”
This year, the market will feature more food trucks, giving visitors immediately edible options in addition to the regular goods. The farmers market is hosting a food truck rally as a preview and practice for the vendors on Saturday. Their inclusion is all part of Jenssen’s goal of making the market feel even more like a town event.
“People can plan to come over in the morning, maybe grab a pastry, have lunch, and there’s going to be music and activities,” she says. “You’re going to have tons of stuff to do and [have the chance] to connect with your neighbors. That’s not necessarily new to the market, but we’re expanding it.”
The local produce, baked goods, and meats will still be a main focus, though, since it’s one of the reasons Jenssen found the market in the first place.
“I’ve always really felt drawn to local ingredients, supporting local farmers and producers,” she says. “I think that there’s a wellness benefit when you eat local food, and so I’ve always tried to commit to that as much as I can.”
Jenssen’s belief in local ingredients fits with the market’s cooperation with SNAP and food stamp recipients. When someone spends SNAP dollars at the Apex Farmers Market, that cost is matched by additional money they can spend at vendor stations. Jenssen sees this as an important element to the market’s role in the community, as the only place nearby that offers this opportunity without capping spending.
As opening day approaches, Jenssen is still thankful and excited for the opportunity despite any stresses that come with preparation.
“This position is a really amazing way I get to work in a venue I love,” she says, “but I also get to really elevate, promote, and support a lot of local businesses and economy. That’s a really big draw of this job, which is huge for me.”
The Apex Farmers Market plans to continue expanding and helping local business as it develops a year-round schedule for 2018.
(Header photo is provided courtesy of Apex Farmers Market’s website.)