I would suspect that the busiest person in Birmingham right now is Jen Barnett, CEO of Freshfully, the online and now physical marketplace that strives to connect farmers and consumers. In addition to offering locally-sourced veggies, meat, seafood, and dairy, Barnett and her partner Sam Brasseale, are experiencing an exciting moment in the Magic City.
Just last week, hundreds gathered at the newly opened Freshfully storefront, located in the burgeoning Avondale business district. The retail location was part of Occupy Avondale, a strategic economic development campaign led by Main Street Birmingham and Avondale Brewing Company (which sits just across the street). Dozens of local entrepreneurs entered the contest in hopes of winning six months free rent in this prime spot. And Freshfully took the prize.
So, what to do with a woman who is at the center of Birmingham’s attention? Twist her arm into taking a break to hang out with us in the Magic City Chatroom for a bit.
Locavores, I’m pleased to introduce to you (the woman who’s no stranger), Jen Barnett:
MCM: Oh my, Jen. Where do we even start? How about telling us how long have you lived in Birmingham. Current neighborhood? Family?
I was born and raised here in Roebuck and then in Trussville. I moved away in ’00 and moved back in ’06. I live in Redmont Park. I have a giant husband named Darrell, but we call him Puddy. My mom is still in Trussville and has a shop called The Straw Hat. I have three cats: Bubba, Catfish, and Foxy.
MCM: We’re always pleased to hear that natives return after time spent away. Now, let’s cut to the chase. You’ve had a big year. Tell us about how you got Freshfully up and running, and how far you’ve come.
Holy smokes. A year ago I was freelancing and putting together the Freshfully business plan to enter the Incubate Bang competition. I was wondering where to buy local food. Now my iPhone is full of farmers’ phone numbers. We still have a long way to go before I’m willing to say that Freshfully is successful, but we’re definitely having a fantastic time working on it.
MCM: You’re not giving yourself enough credit! Saying that Freshfully is successful is completely appropriate (and deserved!), and we’d venture to say it extends far beyond veggie boxes and local farm information. Your business has created tremendous excitement in the community. There’s such a buzz about the concept, the vendors and local purveyors, your story, Freshfully’s future! We’re doing our best to keep up so we can ride the Freshfully wave…
Your mission to connect the community with farmers (and other local purveyors) is a welcomed gift to the Magic City. How challenging has this been, and what surprise successes have you experienced?
Sam and I were really naive when we first undertook this project. We thought we’d rely mostly on a content model and start selling product in a year or two. Once we did decide to sell product, we thought it would be months or years before we were able to find meat and produce to sell. When we met Will & Laurie from Moore Farms in Woodland, AL, everything just clicked. We started selling their amazing sustainable veggie boxes, and the business took off.
MCM: Selfishly, we’re over the moon that now we can get local produce, meat, and dairy seven days a week! Congrats, by the way, on winning the Occupy Avondale contest, and hooray for putting a fresh market just blocks from our neighborhood! Tell us about this new retail space, and plans for the future.
Thank you! The space is gorgeous; I still can’t believe we work here. Coby and Hunter Lake from Avondale Brewing Company are just doing amazing things on this block. The market is primarily produce, and the farmers visit us every day to deliver, so our inventory changes all the time. We’re open 10-7 every day, and we love for people to come hang out with us.
MCM: Okay, Jen, let’s have some fun. You can only eat one vegetable for the rest of your life. Which one would you choose?
I actually think about this a lot. Broccoli is clearly the king of vegetables. Everyone loves it, and it tastes good raw, cooked, or used as an ingredient. But I think I’d have to go with field peas, the way my mom makes them.
MCM: Good answer! Just those two words, “field peas”, takes us back to childhood summers in the South. Tell us, what’s something Birmingham needs to know about you?
Birmingham should know that I am totally overwhelmed by all the support for Freshfully. I thought I was a pretty tough old broad, but I am constantly touched by the nice things people are saying about the shop and the web site.
MCM: Birmingham is quite a loving, nurturing place, isn’t she?! We believe her community spirit is her greatest asset. We’re curious about what other parts of Birmingham you enjoy? What’s your favorite Birmingham sight to see? Favorite character? Favorite dish?
I love the view of the city from Red Mountain. It makes me feel like anything is possible. My favorite character is Jay, who has a business next door to Freshfully called “GAMES.” He looks like a sea captain, smokes like a chimney, and has a store full of old video game machines from the ’80s. He’s open from 4:30-5:30 p.m. on Tuesday and Thursday. He said he’ll give me a $50 bill for every game I sell. He told me I have “personality.” I’m not sure if he means that as a compliment, but I love him. My favorite dish is the Niçoise salad at Bottega Café. I also love the burgers at the new Saw’s Soul Kitchen.
MCM: We’re slightly addicted to those burgers. So addicted, in fact, that we haven’t even sampled the barbecue – blasphemy in these here parts, we know. Now, if you were trying to convince an outsider to visit our great city, what would your elevator pitch sound like?
Usually I lure friends in with pictures of my adorable cats and amazing view. Once I get them here, I wow them with things like dinner at Highlands (which we pass off as an average neighborhood joint, lol) and Saw’s BBQ. I think the Indy Race is the best thing to happen to Birmingham in forever. A beautiful day in the park, where there just happens to be an Indy race going on. This is not a very good elevator pitch. It’s probably good that I already have investors.
MCM: Final questions, and then we’ll let you get back to work: If there were a Birmingham time capsule planted now, to be opened in 2112, what would YOU put in it?
A “Who’s Your Farmer” t-shirt from Freshfully and some heirloom tomato seeds, just in case!
A big ole’ thanks to Jen for taking the time to chat with us. And for those of you who’ve yet to step inside Freshfully’s new location in Avondale, please just go ahead and make a day of it. Start at Saw’s for lunch, step over to Freshfully for a little shopping, then finish it all with a nice cold Spring Street Saison at Avondale Brewery. No doubt it’ll be one of the best afternoons you’ve had in a while.
Cheers to locavores and all those who keep us fed!