Sunday, July 19, 2009

Deer Lodge, Seeley Lake markets

How do I describe the joy, the enthusiasm, the community spirit at Littlebird's Marketplace in Seeley Lake?

Several vendors came up to me to make sure I understood their gratitude to Vicki Voegelin (pictured above), who founded, manages, and watches over with a loving heart what she calls a "marketplace," which, she explains, best describes the abundance and variety of items for sale.

I've visited some markets where I was sadly disappointed by the overwhelming appearance of crafts as opposed to produce. Why call it a farmers market if you're going to sell mostly jewelry and soap?

But Littlebird's Marketplace has a nice balance of edibles and non-edibles. In fact, if you want to find gifts that will really be appreciated, Seeley Lake on a Sunday morning would be the perfect place to shop. The artisans have enormous talent, and it was difficult to remind myself I couldn't afford to buy everything I wanted!

I did buy a dish towel from the enterprising Victoria Elliott, who, in true artistic spirit, signs each tag labeling her appliqued dish towels.

Victoria's imaginative towel designs (I bought the chick)

There was produce, of course.

And refreshments for customers of all sizes.

The name of this market comes from Vicki's restaurant, Littlebird's Schoolhouse Cafe, which is a must-see while you're in the area. The market takes place on the lawn beside this old building, whose interior is filled with interesting things to look at. I didn't have a chance to eat there (except cinnamon rolls; more on this in a moment), but judging from the quality work Vicki puts into running her market, I'd be willing to bet the food gets just as much loving attention.

inside Littlebird's Schoolhouse Cafe

Vicki has thought of everything. She even created a nicely decorated outhouse for the comfort of customers.

And if that wasn't enough, she and her kitchen staff are busy each Sunday morning baking cinnamon rolls and stirring up lemonade to sell. I tried to buy mine, but Reg, who was managing the food booth, insisted it was on the house because of the work I am doing to get accurate information on my Yummy Northwest farmers market page. Gratitude and hospitality are abundant at the Littlebird's Marketplace.

a baked cinnamon roll and fresh-squeezed lemonade

When you visit the market, watch for the yellow flag flying above Littlebird's. It will be on the east side of Highway 83 in the center of Seeley Lake.

It was hard to tear myself away from the kind-hearted folks in Seeley Lake, but I was on a mission, so I drove an hour and a half south to catch the Deer Lodge Sunday market. Markets tend to close up when vendors sell out, and since it was near 11 am, I kept my fingers crossed the whole way that I'd meet at least one vendor in Deer Lodge. Of course I got stuck behind trucks hauling hay and slow-moving sightseers on the winding roads, and had to slow down considerably through a pothole-strewn construction area covered with gravel, but I made it.

It was a close call, but I managed to get a photo of Jolene's booth that still had some produce left after a busy morning. She is considered the "heart" of the market, with the growing season of her vegetables determining the dates of the market.

The population of Deer Lodge is about 3,500, and the market is an important source of organic produce. As many as 5 produce vendors and 5 craft vendors appear at the market each week, but I met only 2 today. Jolene was packing up her truck as I talked to Anna, who with her husband Carl runs the market. Anna was selling eggs, rhubarb cake, raspberry and heirloom tomato starts, and items she makes from organic cotton and local wool.

Anna uses the market to teach other farmers and even customers how to use organic methods. While I was standing nearby, a man said to her, "My friend just planted some tomatoes. Should he be fertilizing them now?" Anna was happy to give advice.

Later in the season there will be plenty of tomatoes and corn, and even garlic and shallots provided by Cranky Carl, who, according to Anna, really knows his organic gardening.

Deer Lodge Sunday Farmers Market
Main Street, 500 block
July 12 - October 18
Sunday, 8 am - 1 pm

Littlebird's Marketplace
Seeley Lake
School Lane
June 14 - September 13
Sunday, 10 am - 2 pm

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