New Oak Park Farmers Market manager ready for 37th season

A fresh perspective

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By Anna Lothson

Staff Reporter

The Oak Park Farmers Market is back this weekend for its 37th season.

This year, besides a few new vendors, the market's new manager Jessica Rinks hopes her community garden and urban planning background can keep the market sprouting for some time.

Rinks first shared her passion for local farming with the public when she founded the Forest Park community garden, a nonprofit garden that was built much like the farmers market — from the ground up. Moving up to the Oak Park market was a logical step, she said.

"It seemed like a good fit with my skills," the 32-year-old said last week of her new job. She works part time as an urban planner and has sold her homegrown produce at markets in the city. "I decided to take it to the next level from a professional standpoint and not just be a volunteer."

The Oak Park market, which kicks off this Saturday at 7 a.m., has a longstanding reputation of quality and diversity of products offered, Rinks said. Particularly, she added, they're able to guarantee where the food is coming from.

"You know it's coming from a good place," Rinks said. "The positive energy is really growing."

The start of the season debuts with cold season crops — lettuce, kale, beets, radishes, asparagus and items that can be planted in the early spring months. The warm season crops — tomatoes, peppers and corn — can be expected in July. Slowly, more items are added throughout the season.

Rinks said the beginning is certainly worth visiting though since the beloved donuts, music, cheeses, flowers, spices, vinegars and even a new honey booth will be on site for visitors. All items come from Illinois, Indiana, Michigan or Wisconsin.

"It's definitely an evolution," she said.

Setting up those early morning booths aren't the easiest for Rinks, but watching families show up pays off in the end.

"It's a great thing to do on a Saturday. And at the same time you are running errands. It fits into the overall culture of Oak Park," she said. "I think it says a lot that it's lasted this long and is still so great."

The locally grown movement isn't new to the village, but Rinks said it's growing in popularity each year. And the more she gets involved, the more she's hooked.

"It's a passion of mine I've discovered in the past five years and I'm working on finding new ways to express that," she said. "My interest is not wavering. The more I do, the more I think 'Yes, this is good.'"

Oak Park was an early adopter of farmers markets, Rinks said, in large part to the residents' dedication to finding fresh and whole foods. She said it's now the second-most-visited link on the village's website.

"That indicates that the market is held by high esteem in Oak Park," she said. "There are a lot of people looking out for it, a lot of people supporting it."

With her urban planning background, Rinks hopes to explore how her knowledge of using public space to bring a community together can benefit the market. In just a few weeks, she's already learned to intricacies of arranging vendors and ensuring every booth fits.

"I don't mind the little details," she said. "I actually kind of like it."

The Market is open this year from 7 a.m. until 1 p.m. at 460 Lake St. every Saturday from May 19 through the end of October.

Email: Twitter: @AnnaLothson

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