How many farmers markets can one town have?

For Missoula, the answer is five. At least. There’s one on Tuesday night, two on Saturday morning (not counting the art market, called the People’s Market), and two on Sunday morning.

We haven’t been to the Sunday markets yet, but we’ve hit all the others. The Tuesday night market was pretty small, but the others are big enough to satisfy anyone. And our landlady told us that when the huckleberries really start coming in, the markets will get even bigger.

As you come into downtown Missoula from where we are staying, in the south university district, you cross the Clark Fork River on the Higgins Street bridge, park, and walk down to the market right under that bridge. The Clark Fork River Market is the biggest one on Saturdays, selling local produce, some organic produce, cut flowers, plants, meat, woolens, cheese and butter, baked goods, and prepared food. All products sold must be grown or gathered in western Montana and sold by the person who did so, with some exceptions to the resale rule for the “realities of ranch economics.” Beth Partin's photos, Missoula farmers markets

I went up to one table to buy the pale carrots that were slightly more yellow than cream and ended up asking the teenage boy minding the store if he would answer a question or two. He looked scared, but then he told me that his parents emigrated here from Laos and started their farm and that he had lived here all his life. I thought then he might be Hmong. He said he wants to get out of Missoula and go to a bigger city, but his parents still need him.

He said all the vendors at the market marvel at the tiny cucumbers the Russians sell early in the spring, and when other farmers ask the Russians how they do it, they say they grow them in greenhouses. I loved that story.

Later, I met a woman named Ruth who seemed to have a slight accent that could have been Russian; she had a bowl of little cucumbers on her table. I told her about 12 Cities, 1 Year, and she took my card, saying, “Everyone always needs a photographer.” That scared me. I’m afraid to tell people I’m a photographer (even though I put it on a business card) because then they might hire me and I might fail! Good grief. I need to get more experience so I can feel more confident carrying my business card around.

At yet a third table, I met a woman from County Rail Farms, who told me about the Montana Sustainable Growers Union. Missoula farmer's marketsMembers must pledge to meet 10 standards equivalent to the standards set for organic farms, but membership in the union doesn’t require the time-consuming certification process and, most importantly, doesn’t cost as much. I’m all for organics, but if cost is the only barrier, I’m all for solutions like this union.

Todd was appalled when I bought some yellow tomatoes from Mountainview Gardens. He insisted on buying red ones for salsa. After we had finished with the Clark Fork River Market, we walked down to the crossing, at the end of Higgins Street. Or the X’s, as the locals call them. Missoula farmers marektsThis photo looks into downtown, toward the river. As you enter the Missoula Farmers Market, you see the sign below, which would horrify any self-respecting Boulderite.Missoula farmers marketsWe walked down to the end of the market and met Josh Slotnick, director of PEAS Farm, who was selling produce from his wife’s farm, Clark Fork Organics. We got his name from a University of Montana student who contacted us on Couchsurfers.Clark Fork Organics(Confused yet? PEAS Farm, part of Garden City Harvest, sells food through CSA shares and gives most of the rest to the food bank. Garden City Harvest does not sell food through the farmer’s markets. Stay tuned for a post about PEAS Farm.)

The Missoula Farmers Market has been around for four decades. It is smaller than the Clark Fork Market, selling produce, cut flowers, plants, baked goods, and coffee. Again, all products were required to come from western Montana.

On our way out, we got some coffee. I bought a mocha-flavored whoopie pie, and Todd picked up his tiny huckleberry pie.

I noticed a man selling “Missoula leis.” I was tempted to buy one, but what would I do with it all day?