Thursday, August 7, 2014

Awesome Huntley farmers market

You rarely read a bad word here about a farmers market. I get so excited to be at one, I can hardly see anything wrong with it.

But every once in a while I find one that is really outstanding, even better than the other great Montana markets.

That was the case with the Huntley farmers market today.

For one thing, look at the photo above: this family provided homemade cookies and refreshing lemonade (pink and "regular") and seved it with big smiles. Aren't those smiles alone worth a million bucks?

It was a hot afternoon, so I also sampled the ice tea from another vendor, who was raising money for a school trip to Washington, D.C. Her brother was "just helping out," but he couldn't help smiling as if he were going on the trip, too.

Huntley is part of the Huntley Project, a valley area that also includes the towns of Ballantine, Pompeys Pillar, and Worden. In 1907 the US Bureau of Reclamation created the first and most successful irrigation project, which took water from the Yellowstone River and distributed it throughout the valley via canals.

I didn't ask, but I wonder if this is why there were so many vegetables at this small market, with its 20 vendors today. I especially liked the heirloom varieties, which you often see at farmers markets. These are lemon cucumbers (left) and Boothby's Blonde cucumbers. Very tasty.

The vendor above told me he was being assisted by his "great" great grandson, who also helps tend the garden.

I chatted with David for a bit, who proudly described the care he puts into creating sturdy and decorative boxes and who also has time to grown onions. He said he likes to garden but has decided that onions are fairly easy to grow and popular with customers, so he specializes in them.

At the next table was Dave, who has a passion for jerky. If you eat his, you will, too. After sampling and learning about all the work that goes into producing the jerky, I had to buy some. It takes 2 to 2 1/2 pounds of meat (the leaner the better; Dave uses London broil) to produce 1 pound of jerky. Plus, you have to keep the meat from drying out too much and being too salty. Dave's is moist yet chewy. Dave says it's a hobby for him, that he loves selling his jerky at the market "to see people smile."

Of course there were baked goods, too.

And lots of lovely canned goods. This vendor told me that tourists passing through are great customers, with the pickles being the most popular purchase. Some folks call ahead if they can and ask for their favorites to be set aside. There are a lot of canned goods in this photo, but they will likely all be sold by the end of the evening.

And something you rarely see at farmers markets: catnip. I was told it also makes a soothing tea to help human go to sleep. Funny how it has the opposite effect on cats.

So now I hope you can see why I enjoyed this market so much. Why not stop by and meet these folks yourself?

Huntley Farmers Market
Barkemeyer Park,  Northern Ave.
July - September
Thursdays, 4 pm - 7 pm

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Montana Roots aquaponics

It's a lush greenhouse, but there isn't much dirt to be seen anywhere, except what you track in from outside.

Welcome to Montana Roots, an aquaponic paradise in Livingston.

From the outside, it looks like just another greenhouse. But inside (as shown in photo above) there is something -- or, rather a series of somethings -- happening to create a green wonderland.

Sam and Amory are gardeners who are experimenting with a self-supporting biosystem.

Hydroponics is the process of growing plants without soil, but using any kind of nutrient in the water. Aquaponics uses fish waste within the system to provide nutrients.

In Sam and Amory's aquaponics system, the first step, still in its initial stages, is raising grubs to feed the fish.

The larvae of black soldier flies will fuel the second step, the fish. Right now there are 300 bluegill and a handful of "outcasts," as Sam calls them. Currently, the fish eat purchased fish food.

The water carrying the processed fish waste goes through rocks, then through a more solid formation where worms do their, er, dirty work. In the top photo above, you can see the plants in this biological filter overflowing on a shelf above the rest of the greenhouse.

Every step along the way is verdant.

Finally, the water reaches the main greenhouse level, where a variety of plants can be grown. Their roots reach down into the water where pumps make sure there is plenty of oxygen to feed the hungry plants.

Right now there are mostly lettuces, herbs, and bok choy. In winter, brassicas such as broccoli, mustard greens, and kale grow well. No root vegetables, of course, since they do need soil to form.

What happens in subzero Montana winters?

Sam explained that the water keeps the temperature inside the greenhouse warm enough that no heaters are necessary. Sometimes the edges of the leaves of the plants nearest the outside walls freeze, but as the day warms up, they revive.

Sam and Amory share their bounty at the Livingston farmers market.

They also share their knowledge with Livingston middle school students, who apply on a first-come, first-served basis, in the Root Down program. Beginning with a week in the greenhouse in June, 15 students learn about gardening, farming, ecosystems, and life in general as they enjoy monthly camping trips and get-togethers throughout the year. Sam said the students also help deliver produce to local restaurants and the Livingston hospital, proudly announcing they grew it themselves.

Sam said he is excited about another project. With newly obtained grant money, he will be overseeing construction of a greenhouse at the middle school so more students can learn about growing their own food and enjoy eating it in the cafeteria.

If you want to learn more about any of these projects, contact Montana Roots via their website (currently under construction) or Facebook page.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Baked goods galore at BT farmers market

Under cloudy skies and sheltering from the wind, four vendors offered smiles, baked goods, and award-winning jelly on the opening day of the Big Timber Farmers Market.

"We'll have more vendors as the season gets going," promised market manager Shona Wieting.

When the Hutterites start bringing vegetables, beginning next week if the weather is better, more customers will appear as well.

Meanwhile, today there were plenty of freshly baked pies, cinnamon twists, rolls, loaves of bread, doughnuts, lemon bars, and brownies to choose from. I bought a few things to bring home for myself.

You gotta love these ladies who get up at 4:30 a.m. to bring the lucky citizens of Big Timber warm goodies fresh from their ovens.

Be sure to visit them sometime this season. But get there early. On a pleasant summer day, those cinnamon rolls sell out quickly.

Big Timber Farmers Market
West 1st Ave & Hart Street, across from American Bank
June 14 - September 27 (depending on weather)
Saturday, 9 am - 1 pm