Lindsey Brenkus surveys a tub of homegrown lettuce, loaves of just-baked wheat bread and tables heaped with pickles, parsley, onions and oatmeal cookies. She can't stop smiling. It's another blue-ribbon day at the farmers market in Bellville, Ohio (pop. 1,773).
Just 13, Lindsey is an old hand at managing the Bellville Farmers Market, which she founded in 2003.
"My grandma took me to a farmers market in Mount Vernon (Ohio) when I was 9, and it was great and I loved it," Lindsey recalls. "I bought a dill plant and some tomatoes. I was like, 'Grandma, why doesn't Bellville have a farmers market?'"
Her grandmother, Pam Wolfe, remembers the conversation. "I said, 'because someone has to start it.'"
The seed was planted and Lindsey, then a fourth-grader at Bellville Elementary School, didn't stop until she had established a full-grown farmers market in her hometown.
Her mother, Teri Brenkus, laughs when people praise her for being a supportive parent. "I tried to ignore Lindsey," Teri admits, "but she bugged me to death. She kept saying, 'Who do I call next?'"
To learn about running a farmers market, Lindsey called directors of nearby markets, the Richland County Health Department and the Ohio Department of Agriculture. Then she met with the Bellville City Council.
Councilman William Sheriff says the young girl's enthusiasm won them over. "She was all keyed up. She gave us a presentation and everyone thought it was just great," Sheriff says while selling hazelnuts and flavored popcorn at the farmers market. "The town's glad to have her out here. We get a lot of compliments on her."
On Saturday mornings from June through October, as many as 30 farmers and gardeners set up tables under the towering maples on the Bellville town square. Lindsey marks off 10-by-10-foot spaces, which cost $5 apiece for the season. Fees are paid to the city. Vendors agree to guidelines that specify the hours of operation, what can be sold and cleanup duties. Lindsey enforces the rules.
"One guy tried to sell birdhouses," says Lindsey, who prohibits the selling of crafts. "I want to keep the farmers market natural."
With Lindsey at the helm, the Bellville Farmers Market has blossomed into more than a place to buy just-picked peppers and pumpkins.
"It's turned into a social event for this town," says Dave Duncan of nearby Crestline (pop. 5,088), who peddles honey and beeswax-based soaps and lotions. "I'm tickled about this market and enjoy calling a 13-year-old my boss."
For vendors, the extra income they've earned is much appreciated. "On a busy day, you can take in two or three hundred dollars," says Mick Conrad from nearby Mansfield (pop. 49,346), who sells pickles, jellies and relishes.
To advertise the Bellville Farmers Market, Lindsey displays fliers at downtown businesses and posts hand-painted road signs with help from her father, Mike Brenkus. For a while, she enlisted help from her brothers, Mikey, 11, and Stuart, 9.
"I paid my little brothers a dollar an hour to dance out on the sidewalk with the farmers market sign. Then they wanted $2 an hour," says Lindsey, who outsourced their job to some neighbor kids.
Lindsey sells her own homegrown tomatoes and fresh herbs, along with zucchini bread and chocolate-chip cookies, which always sell out at $2.50 a half-dozen. Earlier this summer, Lindsey agreed to help her brother, Stuart, bake his own chocolate-chip cookies.
"I didn't give him a nudge. I gave him a push," says Lindsey, who ended up doing the bulk of the baking for her brother.
In the spirit of free enterprise, Stuart undersold his sister, selling his cookies for $2 for five. Lindsey didn't complain much. She knows it's in the best interest of the market, which has been a blooming success from the start—thanks to her pure-hearted spirit and dogged determination.
"Lindsey doesn't have any greed in mind," beekeeper Duncan says. "She just wanted to do something nice for her community."