As the woman behind the Lakeline and Mueller farmers markets, Carla Jenkins encourages Austinites to shop local.
By Amanda Pinney, Photos by Walter Jenkins and Ryan Farnau
Carla Jenkins admits she knew little about the agricultural industry when she was asked to start a farmers market in Cedar Park, Texas. As the founder of F2M Texas, a nonprofit that operates both Austin’s Mueller and Lakeline markets, Jenkins primarily focuses on finding suitable locations to open markets in the Austin area.
With assistance from the city, Jenkins and her team opened the first farmers market at 1890 Ranch in Cedar Park in March 2010. Opening day brought more than 3,000 shoppers, and all 20 vendors sold out within the first hour.
“People just embraced us,” Jenkins says of the market at 1890 Ranch. “There were all these smiles on everybody’s faces.”
But the success meant the market’s time was short-lived. By June of that year, the market had outgrown the space and it was time for location scouting once more. The parking lot of Lakeline Mall turned out to be the perfect space to accommodate the thousands of visitors each weekend.
The prosperity and appeal of the farmers market at Lakeline did not go unnoticed. In 2012, Catellus Development Corporation contacted Jenkins about opening a market in the up-and-coming Mueller neighborhood. With an opening day featuring 40 vendors and more than 6,000 shoppers, Texas Farmers’ Market at Mueller was a swift success.
“It’s wonderful for people who want to start a big business but can’t afford a brick-and-mortar because they can come and present everything at the market,” Jenkins says of the many farmers and vendors. “And then I call it graduation when they get into one of the retail stores. I look at it as my children graduating from high school or college.”
If there’s one thing Jenkins guarantees for visitors, it’s authenticity. Texas Farmers’ Markets are manager-inspected, producer-only markets. All vendors sell only what they grow or produce, and there is no reselling or repackaging of any products.
“I go out to every single farm and ranch before they come to the market to make sure that they’re doing what they say they’re going to do,” she says. “I have to actually see what they’re going to be bringing to the markets. I think that’s a responsibility of mine to the shoppers.”
Although they were developed with the same intention, to create a space for shoppers to sample and purchase local products, the markets at Lakeline and Mueller draw very different crowds. With attractions such as a petting zoo, face painters and yoga, the market at Mueller appeals to visitors who go for the experience, whereas shoppers at Lakeline are more focused on the food.
“The people at Lakeline do not linger. They come, they shop, they know who they want to shop with, they buy their things and they leave,” Jenkins says. “At Mueller, I think it’s because of the community or the park, people love to come and spend the day.”
After years of Jenkins’ hard work running the day-to-day operation of the markets, when Friday rolls around, she sits back with a smile on her face. She recently passed the torch to Kate Payne, who began working with the Texas Farmers’ Markets in 2012. Payne is now the executive director of the organization, while Jenkins remains chair of the board.
With an average of 3,000 to 5,000 shoppers per day, it’s no secret both markets have become highly popular among locals and visitors alike. The market at Mueller will receive a space upgrade this fall, including a covered pavilion and a parking garage. Shoppers will also have the chance to visit the Mueller market during the week starting in May, with a new market to open Wednesdays.
Carla Jenkins’ Picks: Can’t-miss Booths
Cauliflower: “Our vendors are always looking for a unique vegetable to sell, and I’ll never forget the first time I saw Romanesco cauliflower or the different colored cauliflower. There used to just be white cauliflower and now there’s purple, green and yellow!”
Jackfruit jerky: “There’s a vendor at the market who sells jackfruit jerky, which is a vegan jerky. They take a jackfruit they dry it and add flavor, and it tastes just like beef jerky. But it’s made from a fruit!”
Sample table: “We have a sample booth, where we hire people to do nothing but take all the stuff from our vendors and put it out on a table so that people can actually come taste things before they buy them. That’s where everybody should start before they begin shopping.”