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W.Va. beauty queen takes over as farmer's market chief

Capitol Market Executive Director Nichole Greene talks with Brad Gritt of Gritt's Farm at the Capitol Market in Charleston, W.Va., on Friday, May 10, 2019. (Chris Dorst/Charleston Gazette-Mail)

By MARIA YOUNG, Charleston Gazette-Mail
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — It’s hard to imagine someone’s life coming full circle by the time they reach 28 years of age — but it’s fair to say, that’s exactly what’s happened for Nichole Greene, 2016’s Miss West Virginia USA and now the executive director for Charleston’s Capitol Market.
“I am born and raised in West Virginia. My family had a small business here for over 86 years, Save Supply Kitchen and Bath Company on the West Side,” which closed in 2012 after 83 years in operation, she said.
“And so I’ve been around small businesses and had this love of West Virginia my whole life.”
Still, she never planned to run a farmers market. She also didn’t plan to become a leader for her generation of West Virginians. For a long time, she envisioned a career in the beauty industry.
“I had worked as a professional makeup artist for a number of years. I traveled to L.A. and Nashville and Atlanta and Dallas and worked under a lot of really amazing makeup artists. Met Kim Kardashian and all these, like, crazy things,” she said.
“It’s just a very different life from where I am now,” she added, glancing out her window at a bustling pavilion in bloom, full of fruits, vegetables and flowers from local farmers and vendors.
She landed in this unexpected place because she was trying to find her path — and a job that would allow her to stay in her hometown — after the frenzied whirlwind of a national pageant.
“It is your job. … You are traveling for the state. I was probably in New York six days every month,” leading up to the competition in Las Vegas, she said.
She had to focus on a cause she cared about, and chose breast cancer awareness — working through what is now the West Virginia Breast Health Initiative.
“I worked a lot with helping women who were going through chemo, losing hair, losing their eyelashes, losing their eyebrows, find products that can work for them and their skin, because a lot of things might have irritants that are not communicating well with the drugs and the medications and things that you might be on,” she said.
The months before the pageant, in June 2016, were full-time and then some. She ended up in the top 15 — one of only 10 West Virginia contestants to place so high.
“So you kind of put everything else on hold that you’re doing,” she said. “It consumes your life in a lot of ways. And you have to kind of come down off of that.”
She came away more aware of her passion for nonprofit work and hoping to find work that would underscore her love for West Virginia. She landed a role with West Virginia Free, a women’s reproductive health and economic rights organization. She loved the position, which lasted for 18 months, until the grant that funded her work ran out.
“I was just, like, looking around, wondering when I was gonna do, and actually had been looking into jobs outside the state because I was getting a little worried that I was going to find anything here in the communications, marketing, nonprofit world,” Greene said.
There’s also a guy to consider: she’s engaged to Josh Jenkins of Cross Lanes, a human resources associate. They plan to marry in Paris later this year. Her parents, too, live in Cross Lanes.
When a friend shared a posting for an executive assistant at the Capitol Market, she took a pragmatic approach. She already loved the market — it was one of the places she chose when the Miss USA film crew came to Charleston to produce a video of her story for the pageant.
“I was like, ‘Well, it’s not quite what I want to do at this time. It’s not quite what I was being paid, but at least it’s nonprofit and at least I get to be doing some of the things like social media and marketing and event planning, fundraising; and, you know, maybe I can just hang out there for a little while.'”
That was in April 2018 — and it would prove to be a fortuitous path. She’d been promoted to communications director by July. A few short months later, in October, longtime executive director Tammy Borstnar announced she was leaving, opening the door to a role that combined Greene’s experience in nonprofit work with her passion for her home state.
“As a young professional and even as a woman, it’s kind of like, I know that I could do this. But at the same time, I don’t know that other people believe in me and know that I can do this,” she said.
It was nerve-wracking.
“I was very hesitant at the time. But as any good daughter does, I talked to my mom and she was like, ‘Heck, yes, you can do this. Absolutely. Like, you’re well-educated, you have the experience and you might just be what the market needs.'”
Beyond what the market might need, Greene thought of what Charleston — and West Virginia in general — might need, and how she might help fit that role.
“We need to put young professionals and young people in positions of leadership if we want to make the city grow,” she said.
“One of the hot topics right now is our population is declining and young people are fleeing to Columbus and Charlotte and Pittsburgh. So what do we do to change that? We have to make sure that young people are involved in this conversation. And I think being where I am right now, I can absolutely help to lead that conversation.”
First, she had to land the job. She wowed the Board of Directors with a 1-year, 3-year and 5-year plan for Capitol Market, a plan that she said built on the success of the space and brought a focus on new trends that would help the market flourish and grow in the years to come.
“We are very happy to name Nichole as our new Executive Director,” said Capitol Market Board of Directors President Mark Carbone in a Jan. 31 press release that hailed her as “exactly the person” the market needed.
“Nichole, with her enthusiasm and background, will bring fresh and innovative ideas that will allow the Market to grow and be an even more exciting destination in the future,” Carbone wrote.
She took over in the dead of winter — and began tackling a list of challenges: funding, to replace income and staff positions lost when the state’s Department of Agriculture decided to focus its resources in a different direction; security that offered safety for vendors and customers, and respect and assistance for the nearby homeless population; hiring new staff and further branding the market as a nonprofit.
“We’re contributing $9 million to the local economy every year … but it takes a lot to keep the lights on, and if people don’t know that, we can’t see those donor fundings and grant opportunities and things like that,” Greene said.
The first move in that direction was a small but important change to the popular farm to fork dinners.
“We changed the logo to ‘a farm to fork fundraiser,’ because it’s what it’s supposed to be. People thought that it was just a dinner, just like any other event, but a fundraiser puts it out there that, you know, hey, we need funding.”
The first one of the season is set for June 8, a Mediterranean dinner being prepared by Chef Paul Smith. The menu will be announced and tickets — at $115 per person — go on sale Monday. And the dinners, she said, showcase exactly what the funds are for.
“Everything that you’re getting at that dinner is coming from the market. So you’re getting wine from Teddy at The Wine Shop and the J.Q. Dickinson Salt that’s on the table is coming from West Virginia Marketplace. The meat is coming from Johnnies, those tomatoes are from Gritt’s Farm. And so you see right in front of you what your dollar is going to, to ensure that family-run business that’s over 80 years old is continuing their operation and that you get to have this beautiful place in Charleston still.”
A goal for this summer: launching the SNAP Stretch program, which allows SNAP recipients to double or triple their SNAP dollars at farmers markets and ensures local farmers get full retail value for their produce.
She’s also looking into things she’s seen in other markets: morning yoga, participatory public art projects, pop-up shows, perhaps a Christmas market, and even an adult-themed night market featuring artisan cocktails and cool music.
At the end of the day, Greene said, she hopes Capitol Market can be more on the cutting-edge — in a way that honors its long-standing traditions.
“I want to ensure, like, in the next five years that we are on trend — so maybe people aren’t talking about something that they saw in Columbus or someplace else. They see it here first.”
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Information from: The Charleston Gazette-Mail, http://wvgazettemail.com.