Farmers Markets Springing Back to Life

Diehard marketgoers can find choose from a variety of markets running at different times throughout the week

By Mike Kordenbrock
Peppers and cherry tomatoes at Two Bear Farm’s produce booth at the Whitefish Farmers Market on Sept. 10, 2019. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

Local farmers markets are back in the Flathead Valley, bringing with them a community-oriented mix of fresh produce, local artists, food vendors, and live music.

For Columbia Falls Community Market Executive Director Melissa Ellis, there’s something particularly special about the market’s early season in that it typically offers a better chance to see familiar faces.

“We do see our locals throughout the season, it just seems like we actually have an opportunity to catch up in May,” Ellis said.

She said that between greeters, and other programs like partnering with local high school artists to design market posters, and outreach to local nursing homes involving things like reserved parking and tables, the Columbia Falls market strives to welcome community members.

“We really want to make sure people feel that it is the local’s market, and that you’re appreciated by coming to the market,” Ellis said. “We want you to feel that it’s a community event.”

 The first market of the season took place on May 19, and Ellis said the market saw greater than expected attendance despite a cold, rainy night.

This year people can expect a total of 55 vendors in a given week, with 14 dedicated to food, five made up of farmers, and the remainder consisting of different arts vendors. Live music will be featured each week, and there’s also a bar at the market.

The market runs Thursday nights rain or snow, or shine for all 20 weeks of its season and Ellis said there is shelter for days when the conditions aren’t ideal. This year she said the market’s board is emphasizing its partnerships with different Flathead Valley nonprofits in order to help raise funds for them. Each week the market will highlight a different local nonprofit that attendees can support. The market also has a variety of partnerships, including a weekly small market sponsor, typically in the form of a small business, that helps pay for live music that week. Additional support will also come from market partners made up generally of larger area businesses.

People can also purchase vegetables and fruit at the market and donate them to the Columbia Falls Food Bank, according to Ellis. She encourages people thinking of attending to check out market’s website and social media pages for more information, including about bike rack locations and parking options.

While the Columbia Falls market is already under way, neighboring Whitefish is still gearing up for its first market of the season on Tuesday, May 31. “I think people are just excited to see their farmers, and to see each other and to come into the center of their community and just sort of celebrate their Whitefishiness,” said Rhonda Fitzgerald, the founder and organizer of the Whitefish Farmers Market.

The market has about 35 farmers that could show up on any given week, and also has about 10 vendors dedicated to local food products. There are another 15 prepared food vendors, and Fitzgerald said there are about 25 artist vendors. The market also features live music.

 This year’s market will feature a handful of new farmers, as well as some other new vendors. Fitzgerald said that this year the market will continue its zero waste policy that went into effect a few years ago, and involves vendors using compostable packaging. “We only do compost and aluminum can recycling,” Fitzgerald said, adding that it amounts to a kind of urban version of “pack it in pack it out,” where if someone brings something into the market that doesn’t fit into either of those waste categories then they’ll have to dispose of it elsewhere.

She said the market goes back to 2004, and that the evening market concept was brought about in part by the popularity among Whitefish residents of spending Saturday mornings recreating, either on a trail or a body of water.

“So Saturday morning didn’t seem like a great time, and so we decided to start our market right after work, so you could leave work and come down, and shop and hang out on the lawn, listen to music, and maybe get something from one of the food vendors, and just make it a community gathering,” Fitzgerald said.

Bigfork Village Market

            When: Mondays, 5 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., June 6 through Sept. 26

            Where: 191 Mill Street, Bigfork

            More information: https://www.bigforkmarket.org/

Bigfork Farmers Market Cooperative

            When: Wednesdays, 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.

            Where: 22 Swan Way, Bigfork

            More information: bigforkfarmersmarket.com

Columbia Falls Community Market

            When: Thursdays, 5 p.m. to twilight, May 19 through Sept. 29

            Where: 830 First Avenue W., Columbia Falls

            More information: cfcommunitymarket.com

Columbia Falls Sunday Market

When: Sundays from 9 a.m. to noon, through Sept. 11.

Where: Sixth Street West in front of the library in Columbia Falls

Kalispell Farmers Market

            When: Saturdays, 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.; Spring season May 7 through July 23, Fall season July 30 through Oct. 15

            Where: Flathead Valley Community College, 777 Grandview Dr., Kalispell

            More information: https://kalispellfarmersmarket.org/

Whitefish Downtown Farmers Market

            When: Tuesdays, 5 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. May 31 through Sept. 27

            Where: Central Avenue Depot at Depot Park, 510 Railway St., Whitefish

            More information: https://whitefishfarmersmarket.org/

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