Booster

Squash in hand, market's new manager takes over

With Laura Zimmerman leaving U.S., Michelle White will oversee Saturday event

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The zucchini has been passed.

Laura Zimmerman, in her eighth season as manager of the Clintonville Farmers Market, will step aside for a year as she takes an international sojourn.

Michelle White, who managed the inaugural winter market when it began in January and who manages the Wednesday-afternoon version of the farmers market, will take her place.

A planned "passing off of the zucchini" last weekend marked the transition.

"Taking up the ceremonial pitchfork, so to speak," White quipped.

Zimmerman's plan is to move with her husband and their son to Sichuan Province in China and teach conversational English for a year, but something of a diplomatic snafu had her concerned late last week that the plans might fall through. The problem revolved around paperwork for the couple's son, 11-year-old Jack, whom they adopted from China.

The issue finally was resolved Friday, July 19, much to Zimmerman's relief.

"I guess we're doing it for a couple reasons," Zimmerman said. "One is so that our son can explore his Chinese heritage. That's important to us."

Also, the longtime market manager said, when she was just a bit younger than Jack, her family moved to India.

"That was a formative experience for me, and we wish the same for our son," Zimmerman said.

She added that she will miss "my friends, who include my neighbors, the farmers and the volunteers and the shopkeepers and the entire community that comes together on Saturday morning out of the ground ... and then disappears until the next week like magic."

"I'm excited," White said of her new role. "It's about three times the size of the winter market. It's a wonderful opportunity. I'm thrilled that they picked me.

"Definitely, the goal is to stay the course."

White said her biggest goal is to make the Clintonville Farmers Market a "zero-waste event."

"That requires some planning and some new physical resources ... but I think it's kind of important to close the food loop," White said. "For years we've focused on where food comes from, so it just makes sense of kind of take up that end of the conversation."

After being informed by the members of the market's board of directors that she might be tapped to temporarily replace Zimmerman, White said she "made some changes in my personal life," leaving a job with a publishing company to make working on a farm her "full-time gig."

"Michelle is very smart and she's a very good communicator," Zimmerman said. "She has knowledge of farming; she actually works on a farm, so she brings that background to the stories that she'll tell about the market."

"The market, like anything that's rooted in something real, goes on," she added. "The Clintonville Farmers Market is a grass-roots nonprofit that's very community based. Because it's rooted in this real community of people who value local food and everything about it, Michelle will carry that on seamlessly. It's all here, and she's a capable manager and it will move forward seamlessly."

"I was ready to make the change, and (am) just super-grateful for the opportunity," White said.

Zimmerman played a major role in her time as manager in expanding the regular market as well as adding the Wednesday and winter gatherings, obtaining nonprofit status and allowing Electronic Benefit cardholders to use them to buy fresh vegetables, board member Catherine Erney said.

"She has just grown it tremendously," Erney said. "We are an all-volunteer board, so this has in large part been fostered by Laura.

"She's just warm and tactful and handles all kinds of situations so wonderfully."

White was the obvious choice to take over for Zimmerman, Erney said.

"She has the same passion about good food and eating locally," she said. "Laura has worked to make sure that we have a seamless transition.

"We wanted to make it special so Laura would know how much she means to us -- but we don't want anybody to say, 'Oh, my goodness, Laura is gone, it won't be any good.' "

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