The manager of Schlafly Farmers Market (7260 Southwest Avenue, Maplewood; 314-241-2337), Rene Sackett, grew up in two worlds: the cosmopolitan, bohemian realm of her Alsatian maternal grandparents and the rural world of her dad's Cherokee family, where hunting, fishing, camping and living off the land were the way of life.
"You put that all together and it's me," Sackett says. "I had a garden when I was four years old. My dad cooked at home and my mom took us to all of these great restaurants as soon as we were old enough. That's just how it was — everything homemade with dad, and lobster out with my mom."
Those varied experiences instilled within Sackett a passion for food that stuck with her throughout her life. She didn't pursue it professionally, however, until she developed a reputation for her contributions to her children's school fundraising dinners. What started as a dish for a potluck turned into organizing spaghetti dinners, an interview in a local newspaper and a request for a party tray from a woman who wanted her to cater a party. Before she knew it, she had a full-fledged catering business.
Sackett's big break into the farmers market business, however, came when she was asked to put together a fish fry and barbecue for the Missouri Department of Conservation. One event led to another, and Sackett was planning fisheries and wildlife events where she was able to delve further into issues of conservation and sustainability.
Sackett got out of the industry to pursue a career in massage therapy, but she couldn't shake the feeling that she needed to get her hands back in the dirt. "I was living in the 'burbs on a wooded lot and had no room to grow anything," Sackett recalls. "I looked for something to do that would fill that part of me and thought, 'If there's nothing for me, I'll make it myself.'"
Sackett approached the city of Ellisville, which had been running a small farmers market out of a grocery store parking lot, and asked if she could volunteer. Not only did the city agree — they asked her to run it. She and her husband transformed the market from a tiny, flea market-style event to a producer-only market. Their efforts caught the attention of the city of Wildwood, and before she knew it, she was running both two markets.
This spring, Sackett was fresh off her election to lead the Missouri Farmers Market Association when she received the call from Schlafly. They were looking for a new market manager and had heard about her work. Would she be interested? "I didn't think I could do it. I had too much going on, but how can you say no?" she recalls.
Now, Sackett is in charge of the market and looking to build upon its reputation for featuring local, sustainable products. Her focus is not just on the vendors and logistics, though. "I'm very relational. I see my purpose there as helping to connect the community to food. Not in a snotty judgmental way," Sackett adds, "but in a way that makes it easier for them — like a cheerleader."
Sackett took a break from the market to share her thoughts on the St. Louis food community, the husband-and-wife team she has her eye on, and why everything you need to know about her can be summed up in a Missouri pecan.
What is one thing people don’t know about you that you wish they did?
I am pretty geeky about the anatomy of the human body and food science. The many years of working with food and doing massage therapy really do make a great combination.
What daily ritual is non-negotiable for you?
Four shots of espresso.
If you could have any superpower, what would it be?
Multiplying myself. Managing two farmers markets, being a massage therapist and owning a small spa, being president of the Missouri Farmers Market Association, wife, mom, grandma, friend, aunt, daughter, sister, social butterfly and "Suzie Homemaker" is sometimes hard for one person!
What is the most positive thing in food, wine or cocktails that you’ve noticed in St. Louis over the past year?
Collaboration and partnerships. I have been so fortunate over the years watching many passionate food and beverage professionals work together and support each other. It keeps getting better. Being able to witness the camaraderie is so much fun and so heartwarming. I love seeing the chefs that come to shop at the Schlafly Farmers Market each week. It's great to see the chefs use produce and protein that is always seasonally fresh and local. And it has been spreading to school programs, feeding the hungry, urban gardening and rural farmers. Food can be such a social connector.
Who is your St. Louis food crush?
The entire Galliano family! Josh, Audra, Emil, Petra and Sawyer are so much fun. Good people!
Who’s the one person to watch right now in the St. Louis dining scene?
The Gallinas (Michael and Tara). I have had the pleasure of spending time with them on a few occasions in the last few months. They support the farmers markets, visit the local farms and are creating relationships in the area. They are a genuinely a nice couple. Their pop-up events have been impressive, and I am excited to see them in their own space.
Which ingredient is most representative of your personality?
The sweet, native Missouri pecan. My paternal great grandfather was 100 percent Cherokee. My maternal family has been in St Louis since the mid-1800s. I am a Native. I can be wild, domesticated, versatile, sweet or savory.
If you weren’t managing farmers markets, what would you be doing?
Well, I am already a licensed massage therapist. I love that. I would be collaborating with folks on how to feed hungry people healthy food and figuring out ways to stop food waste. I wish that I could create a magic wand that would give everyone the time, passion and skill to cook.
Name an ingredient never allowed in your kitchen.
What is your after-work hangout?
Home — usually with a glass of wine.
What’s your food or beverage guilty pleasure?
Marcona almonds with truffle oil.
What would be your last meal on earth?
It would start with these deep-fried Camembert-stuffed boudin balls that Michael Gallina and I made at the Boucherie a few months ago. Then fried frog legs, barbecue chicken, peach and cucumber salad, sweet corn with butter, black trumpet mushrooms sautéed in butter, biscuits with homemade strawberry jam, and homemade vanilla ice cream. Ask me this question during another season, and the answer would change. I really do eat seasonally.
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