Saturday, July 31, 2010

Market signs in Florence

I love market signs, and the ones at the new North Bitterroot Valley Farmers Market (NBVFM) in the parking lot of Caffe Firenze in Florence were endearing.

There were 9 vendors today, who all sell food. That is one of the market rules. Vendors who sell non-food items are sent over to the Florence Farmers Market, where they are welcomed with open arms. So there is something for everyone in Florence.

Since Caffe Firenze sponsors the NBVFM, there are no fees for vendors. I think this is a good policy for first-year markets since customers are just learning they can shop there and might not show up in large numbers to buy the goods. Of course not every market can afford to give away free space -- often there's market advertising and insurance to pay for -- but I'm sure vendors appreciate any breaks they can get.

The young gal selling huckleberry slushies and play dough certainly invested minimally in her booth signage but obviously put a lot of heart and talent into it. Here's a look at the other sign she created.

Next to her was market manager Suzanne Winegart's booth. Suzanne also has a booth at the Clark Fork market in Missoula, so she's had some experience with signs.

Sisters in Raw didn't put much artist fervor into their sign, but they more than made up for that with the imagination in their foods. Calling raw food the "ultimate fast food," they admitted that even they don't eat 100% raw. But if I could eat their cinnamon rolls every day (made from almonds, dates, coconut milk, and cashews among other lovely things), I'd consider it.

The following colorful sign was created by Hank and Edith Timm, who actually grow fruit, pesticide-free at that, in Montana: apples, peaches, plums, and pears in season. Hank explained to me that apples were a huge production in the early 1900s there in the Bitterroot Valley. But then Washington State farmers started into business and that ended that. So stock up when you visit Florence.

And saving the best for last is a table display by a woman who said this was only her second year gardening and her first selling at a market. But since she is a florist by trade, setting out the produce turned into a work of art. I couldn't capture the entire array, but I highly recommend you visit to see her wondrous still life in person.

Now I'll briefly describe the other market in the area, the Florence Farmers Market, also in its first year. Signs weren't the highlight of this market, which is located in a field -- as far as I know unique in Montana for that type of location, but no big deal to anyone who lives near ranches.

There was some good produce, but mostly there was a wide assortment of items by talented craftpeople. This market is about a mile south of the NBVFM, so be sure to stop in at both when you're in the area.

North Bitterroot Valley Farmers Market
Caffe Firenze, at Highway 93 and Eastside Highway
June 5 - mid-October
Saturday, 8:30 am - noon

Florence Farmers Market
5189 Highway 93 South
May 1 - October 2
Saturday, 8:30 am - 1 pm

Friday, July 30, 2010

Arlee market -- small but vibrant

I've passed through Arlee many times, heading north and south to and from Missoula, but I never knew exactly where it was.

As you travel throughout Montana, you will find this is a frequent experience. Where is Two Dot? (It's that tavern.) Where is Cushman? (It must be that, er, building in the middle of the field.) Etc.

Downtown Arlee (both blocks of it) is stretched out along Highway 93, with the northbound lanes running through downtown and past the market and the southbound lanes running a block or so farther west. You can't miss the market; you'll see it as you enter Arlee from the south. If you drive past, turn left as soon as you can and make a quick round trip.

If you happen to be driving from the north, turn left and head to the main street. There might not be signage on the southbound lanes due to a misunderstanding (hopefully temporary) with the highway department.

You never know how many vendors will show up each week. I saw 7, but there could be as many as 20, according to Debra Little, the market manager. She said she is proud of how it is going during their first year.

Small as it is, this market offers some solid reasons to visit.

Indulge in sweets from Chocolate Eclipse, a truly gourmet experience.

Pamper yourself with wooden spoons or flowers offered by Chris Ringwalt, who told me he raises flowers because he likes to walk through them and linger in their fragrance as they grow. He also enjoys creating beautiful spoons and ladles during the winter, and he can never make enough; they sell quickly.

If you feel in need of a religious experience, local Buddhists share their beliefs as well as give directions to the Peace Garden 1 mile north of town.

You might even enjoy the Best Cookie.

Debra loves the market, and she is doing a great job creating it, managing it, and promoting it. Be sure to buy a T-shirt with the fabulous market logo on it.

Jocko Valley Farmers Market
Downtown Arlee on Highway 93,
between Hanging Art Gallery and Rick's Kustom Kut
May 21 - October 1
Friday, 4 pm - 8 pm

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Orchard Homes farmers market

I am always excited to visit a new market. The one in Orchard Homes (Missoula) did not disappoint.

Though small -- about 10 vendors today -- there was a lot of variety, and the produce was impressive. Have you ever seen a freshly picked cauliflower the size of your head? (Think *big* head.)

Other things to choose from included fudge (try the champagne flavor), cinnamon rolls (made from potato dough), lemonade (an Arnold Palmer version is also available), raspberries (delish), and charming bookmarks (made from pressed wildflowers). When you are in Missoula, be sure to stop in at this market.

Orchard Homes Farmers Market
Orchard Homes Country Life Club,
2537 South 3rd St. West (off Reserve), Missoula
June 24 - October 7
Thursday, 4:30 pm - 7 pm

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Roundup and Billings markets -- some lessons

I decided to check out the Roundup and Billings markets to get photos to replace those I lost in a computer crash last year.


I'm glad I had a chance to see Roundup again because I learned a lesson in visiting markets: don't count on actually seeing the market.

I suppose that is not fair to Ray, the sole vendor who showed up on this hot Saturday. He made the effort to do his part, even if no one else did, including the market manager.

But there was no market sign when I drove past the Busy Bee Cafe, and the parking lot looked empty, so I spent a few minutes exploring Roundup, pretty much seeing the town in that time.

The highlight was a surprise museum in the back of a store whose name I forget (sorry!) -- look for U.S. and Montana flags flying and the "Gifts and Souvenirs" sign.

The owner said she wanted to display all the cool stuff people in town have been saving, and the result is an eclectic collection of mounted stuffed animals, saddles, and shelves of old odds and ends. Did you know ground coffee used to come in large glass jars?

I went to check the market area again and there was Ray. His table was covered with flea market items and some bags of Kettle Korn he had made. He explained that he had sold this delicious treat at the Billings market for years, where he was told he made the best in the state. It was pretty good, and an adequate reward for driving an hour north of Billings to visit a market that almost wasn't there.

Ray told me you can freeze the Kettle Korn. He said you can then pop it in the microwave to make it taste fresh again.

Another treat was the banana cream pie at the nearby Busy Bee Cafe. They also gave me a large to-go cup for a last refill of their very very tasty raspberry lemonade. Do stop at the cafe if you're in town.


But before I drove to Roundup, I had been at the Billings market, where vendor booths covered several downtown blocks.

I learned that you can eat radish seed pods -- they taste like the radishes themselves.

But the most interesting lesson was how to cart your purchases home. The following are a few ways I saw people carrying their goods: red wagons (available for use at each end of the market), shopping carts, and luggage.

Roundup Saturday Market
Busy Bee Cafe parking lot, 317 1st Avenue West
May 29 - September 25
Saturday, 9 am - 1 pm

Yellowstone Valley Farmers Market
Under the Skypoint, downtown Billings
July 17 - October 2
Saturday, 8:30 am - noon
In August (4th - 25th)
Wednesday, 4:30 pm - 8 pm

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Red Lodge market

If you take Highway 78 through Absarokee, you drive through a little bit of heaven to get to Red Lodge. A moment of this is captured in the photo above.

If they're fixing roads, like today, you might also drive over gravel and spend as long as half an hour waiting for your turn to pass heavy construction.

But it is so worth it to get to the Red Lodge farmers market.

Although rain fell and wind burst through in a breathtaking gulp today, good humor prevailed. Everyone just grabbed tent posts and held tightly to their dollar bills and produce and waited for the storm to pass. One vendor told me that this is a "warm" market, and I have to agree. People were very nice.

Several children showed off clever items they had made. From tiny dolls to handmade coloring books to dog biscuits to cards made from pressed wild flowers, youthful entrepreneurship was at its best.

Of course adults had plenty of things to offer, too: plants, purses, wooden cutting boards, vegetables, baked goods, and meats. This market is an excellent place to buy organic and naturally raised beef and pork.

If you're on your way to travel the Beartooth Highway (highly recommended; although it was closed due to snow a few days ago, so be warned), try to time your trip so you can pick up some granola and energy bars made by Jessica. She also sews lovely tote bags in case you forget your picnic basket.

On the way home I decided to avoid the road construction and go along Highway 212. I was tempted to take some side roads, but I'll save those adventures for another road trip.

Red Lodge Farmers Market
12th Street at Broadway
July 10 - October 2
Saturday, 8 am - noon