Mandy McManus has no more noble a reason for becoming manager of the Lilburn Farmers Market than simply "because."
"I enjoy community service and bringing a fun event to city of Lilburn," she said, chuckling at so simple a reason. "It's really more about offering an opportunity for the community."
An admittedly earthy type who enjoys time in her home greenhouse, the Lilburn resident confesses she's no ardent community activist, no budding businesswoman, no crusader of holistic eating. Rather, she's simply a former member of the Lilburn Park Committee whom City Councilman Johnny Crist talked into beginning the market last summer.
"Somehow, my name got chosen as the market manager," she said, chuckling. "I thought, 'Really?' I better first go to a farmer's market to learn something about them."
She was flattered Crist urged her to run the market on Friday nights through June, July and August. But she didn't initially realize the volunteer position's enormity.
"I thought, 'Hey, this could be pretty cool,'" she said of the volunteer position. "I was naive. I never dreamed how much work it would be."
From the market's modest beginning last year along Railroad Avenue north of Main Street in downtown, to this year's larger parking lot across Main from the municipal complex, the market has exploded far beyond what McManus and assistant manager Andrea Brannen initially imagined. Two weeks before its start last year, only 17 vendors had signed up. But by the end of summer, though, there were nearly 55. This year's market barely can accommodate that number when it begins today. Already, vendors are on a waiting list, hoping to squeeze in if vacancies arise.
McManus and Brannen have striped off vendors' spaces, and for the next 13 weeks will begin placing barricades, trash cans and recycling bins at 2:30 p.m. each Friday, before vendors come to sell from 4-8 p.m. Then, with their husbands and kids likely there by the end, McManus and Brannen pack up and leave in the twilight.
"It's like putting on the circus 13 times," McManus said. "Literally, the tents go up each week, then they come down when we leave around 9. It's like we were never there."
McManus considers accommodating vendors' unique requests a juggling act.
"There are 55 people all with different needs, different circumstances and different issues," McManus explained. "This one needs this, that or the other, or doesn't want to be near this person, or doesn't like this spot."
McManus considers each Friday's set-up and tear-down worthwhile for so fulfilling an experience.
"Vendors have to find a place to sell their stuff, or it's senseless to even grow it," she said. "On the other hand, it's offering a chance for people in Lilburn to have access to unique and fresh products."
"It's a win-win event," McManus added. "It's a fun place to be on Friday nights. You can come, bring your kids and your dog, taste fresh samples and just have something to do."
Part of McManus' challenge is integrating a diversity of vendors. Last year, the market welcomed sellers of crafts as well as produce. But already at capacity to start this season, merchandise is limited to food, except homemade soaps, candles and natural body products. Vendors pay $10 for a regular stall and $15 for one with electricity, with the money used to run and promote the market.
Promotion is enhanced by lilburnfarmersmarket.org, an interactive site of photos, maps and vendor listings, as well as space to enlist to sell or volunteer. The site was developed by web design students at Providence Christian Academy at Brannen's request.
"We had a fairly diverse range of students from eighth to 12th grade do it," said Providence teacher Howard Liverance. "In the end, I think they all felt they had a role in making the market the wonderful thing it's become."
Brannen, a vice president with McManus in the Lilburn Women's Club, is more computer oriented than McManus and manages the site. That frees up McManus to be more the market's diplomat, its self-described "people person."
A close friend and neighbor of McManus', Brannen admires her tireless effort.
"I truly believe she's an unsung hero," Brannen said of McManus, who's also part of the city's Arbor Day projects, including making Lilburn a Tree USA city.
"Nobody really realizes how much goes into running this market. This is something she does because she feels passionate about it. It doesn't pay a thing."
McManus might be in even higher demand if vendors knew what she does by day. As a subcontractor who merchandizes displays at department stores and grocery stores, she'd have great advice how best to display product.
Again, McManus speaks abashedly.
"I don't really want to get into their business," she said of reluctance to make such suggestions. "I know what works better, but it's not really up to me to tell them how to display their stuff."