Flathead Farmers Markets Generate Millions to Economy

The Columbia Falls Community Market last year attracted thousands of visitors and generated $1.7 million in revenue to the local economy, following statewide trends

By Maggie Dresser
Bunches of carrots catch the evening light at The Columbia Falls Market at The Coop on July 18, 2019. The market is held on Thursday evenings through the summer.

Every Thursday evening from May through September since 2015, the Columbia Falls Community Market has brought slews of Flathead Valley residents and tourists to the market’s venue at the Coop on First Avenue West during the busy summer. The live music, local produce and food trucks that drew in crowds to the festival-like atmosphere helped generate nearly $2 million last year.

In the 20 days that the market ran in 2022, approximately 44,970 people attended the festivities, 117 vendors were hosted, and local small business owners brought in $1.7 million to the small town of 5,500 people that serves as Glacier National Park’s gateway, according to Executive Director Melissa Ellis.

“It’s pretty incredible,” Ellis said. “The market is a huge staple and we have positively impacted small businesses as well as the people that live here.”

The market has received widespread support from the community, with large companies like Nomad GCS, BNSF and Weyerhaeuser that have joined as partners for the event. Additionally, Columbia Falls high school students created the artwork for the market posters and helped launch a recycling program this year while small businesses are featured every week to promote the event.

“We don’t feature anybody that isn’t local,” Ellis said.

The Columbia Falls Community Market. Beacon File Photo

As the Columbia Falls market boosts the local economy every Thursday throughout the summer with 70 local businesses in attendance every week, it follows statewide trends with economists reporting that local farmers markets contribute millions of dollars to Montana.

The University of Montana’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research (BBER) found that farmers markets across Montana contributed $27.7 million to the state’s economy while providing work for 4,900 people during the state’s record-breaking tourism season in 2021.

According to the study, farmers markets in 2021 typically generated $244,000 in revenue over the course of the market season and needed 69 people to run the market.

As one of the largest markets in the state, the Gallatin Valley Farmers Market in Bozeman brings in between 110 and 130 vendors and nearly 3,000 attendees every Saturday, according to BBER data.

Now in its ninth year, the Columbia Falls market has grown with the valley and a board of directors was established in 2020 and Ellis took over that same year as the executive director where she’s worked to maintain a local feel.

The Coop will continue hosting live music performances every week at the market, featuring 20 local bands including John Dunnigan, Badger Hound, 20 Grand and more. The building’s owner recently remodeled the venue, installing tall fences separating the venue from the parking lot, but Ellis said they will be removed during the market.

“(The Coop) got a facelift but it’s the exact same bones,” Ellis said. “The Columbia Falls Community Market will have a band performance every Thursday.”

A new education program will launch this year to bring awareness to the community with topics ranging from bear safety to suicide prevention.

The market will host Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) on May 25, June 15, Aug. 31 and Sept. 14, where they will set up a stand to promote topics like bear awareness and demonstrate how to use bear spray and display bear-proof garbage cans.

The Nate Chute Foundation will have a booth at the first market on May 18 to educate the public about mental health awareness and suicide prevention; the Bob Marshall Wilderness Foundation will be at the market on July 13 to provide invasive species education; and Flathead Electric Coop will inform marketgoers about topics like the company’s electric car program and solar panels on Aug. 24.

A recycling program has also been adopted this year with the help of the Columbia Falls High School Conservation Crew. Funded by Weyerhaeuser and an environmental stewardship grant, #2 plastic bottles and aluminum cans will be recycled.

Bigfork Monday Market

When: Mondays, 5 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., Memorial Day through Labor Day

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 18 through Sept. 28

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 30 through Sept. 26

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

More information: https://whitefishfarmersmarket.org/