Produce season arrives at local farmers markets
Tomatoes are ripe, zucchinis are plentiful and cucumbers are waiting to be pickled. After a relatively cold, wet growing season, local farmers have fruits and vegetables to show for their work. Farmers markets across the county are the place for locals to sample the Mission Valley's bounty.
The Polson Farmers Market is held each Friday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. until Oct. 11, and is located on Third Ave. W in Polson. According to market bookkeeper Linda Sheridan, there are 48 vendors at each market. Offerings include crafts, produce and plants. The market, said to be one of the oldest in Montana, draws a considerable population of tourists each week. Sheridan said the market slows considerably at the end of September; however, there is still plenty of produce for sale through mid-October.
Market Master Cryse Heiner said the Ronan Farmers Market is going well this year. Melons, cucumbers, zucchini and carrots are among the most popular produce available at the market this time of year. According to Heiner, there have been 15 to 20 vendors at the market each week.
Heiner said the kids’ booth at the market has been a great success this season. An average of 30 children participate each week. The kids’ booth offers a nutrition lesson, taste tests of fruits and vegetables and presentations from guest educators like the conservation district. After the lesson, children get a dollar token to buy fruits or vegetables at the market.
“They don’t just learn about fruits and vegetables but they also talk to the farmer,” Heiner said.
“They’re making connections early on about eating healthy, eating local as often as they can and the importance of farmers.”
According to Heiner, the biggest challenge of the season has been the weather. “It took so long to warm up and then there were a bunch of random storms and now the season is almost over,” she said. “It keeps vendors and customers away.”
The Ronan market continues until Sept. 26.
The Mission Falls Market is held every Friday from 5 to 7 p.m. until Sept. 27 in St. Ignatius Good Old Days Park. The market features produce, crafts, sausage and beef. Market president Murry Lyda said things are picking up with the arrival of produce. He said the market could use a few more produce vendors.
Lyda said the new location under the pavilion in the park has meant rain isn’t impacting the market. He thinks the heat has kept customers away. It has also been a challenge for the small three-year-old market to attract new vendors. According to Lyda, the town’s small population makes it hard to support many vendors. Lyda estimates an average of 30 customers visit the market each week.
There are 15 regular vendors who signed up to sell each week this summer. Before the end of the season, market organizers hope to install new, larger signs to direct people to the market.
The Arlee Farmers Market is held each Wednesday from 5 to 7 p.m. outside the Arlee Brown Building until Aug. 28. Coordinator Patty Tiensvold said recent weeks have brought an abundance of produce to the market.
Retaining vendors has been a challenge for the Arlee market, she added. When vendors don’t make many sales, they don’t return. Six to 12 vendors attend the market each week. According to Tiensvold, the market has seen low customer attendance this year. This summer, the market premiered weekly meals sold by local organizations. Tiensvold said some weeks the meals sold well and others saw low sales.
According to Tiensvold, the market was developed in response to community requests for opportunities to purchase fresh produce. Access to fresh fruit and vegetables is limited in the town. Though the market has provided an avenue for locals to purchase fresh foods right in town, Tiensvold says low attendance has caused market leaders to question whether the market is worth the investment of planning time.
“We’ve heard from lots of people that we just have to have a market but we can’t do it without support from people,” Tiensvold said.
All four markets accept Senior Farmers Markets Coupons. Customers can also use their SNAP benefits to purchase produce at each market. The Mission Falls, Ronan, and Polson markets offer “double SNAP benefits” where customers can get double the value of their SNAP dollars up to a certain amount.