By Sarah Gianelli EBS Contributor
BIG SKY – What started eight years ago as an experimental market with approximately 60 vendors has grown into a thriving weekly event featuring 105 regional merchants. The weekly summer event attracts thousands of visitors to Big Sky’s Fire Pit Park on Wednesdays from 5-8 p.m., held between June 22 and Sept. 28 this year.
The eclectic mix of artisans at the Big Sky Farmers Market includes photographers, jewelers, wood workers, custom furniture makers, painters, sculptors, clothiers, antler artists and florists, among others. The array of boutique food vendors has expanded to include wood fired oven pizzas, barbecue, organic cold pressed juices, baked breads and desserts, all offering creative menus that highlight premium locally sourced ingredients.
Photographer Ryan Turner has had a booth at the Farmers’ Market since the beginning. Earning his living as a commercial adventure photographer, he credits the market with providing the impetus to share his nature photography, and to opening a gallery in Big Sky’s Big Horn Shopping Center in 2010.
“This farmers market was the first place I really showed my artwork,” Turner said. “It was always something I did on the side, but when people started seeing it here and wanting to place custom orders, that’s why we grew to [open] a gallery and store.”
Hosting five produce stands at the most, the farm aspect of the famers market may seem lacking. However, the farms that attend bring a unique variety of high quality, locally grown fruits, vegetables, farm fresh eggs and other cottage industry commodities.
Callie Stolz, owner of Big Sky’s Santosha Wellness Center, never misses the opportunity to support the farmers at the Big Sky Farmers Market.
“Eating local is always a benefit, not only to our community but to our bodies,” Stolz said. “The produce from the farmers markets holds a much higher nutritional value [than store bought produce]. You can taste—and feel—the difference.”
Montana farms at the Big Sky Farmers’ Market include Cedar Rose Farms out of Helena, West Natural Farms from the Bitterroot Valley, Bozeman’s Harvest House Farms, Flathead Lake Cherry Growers and Manhattan Greenhouses.
Getting farmers to commit to the Big Sky Farmers Market has been a challenge due to the region’s short growing season, as well as Big Sky’s remote location and questionable profitability. To counteract those factors, Big Sky Town Center—the presenter of the market—is working with a few larger regional farmers that are growing specifically for this market, and have increased production to accommodate its extended season.
“It’s really exciting to see how this event has grown,” said market organizer Erik Morrison. “We have more consistent farmers and produce than ever before and they are finding great success here.”
Morrison said they are already planning for next season’s market.
“Our team is working to further refine the architecture of the market to optimize our small space and scout more local and regional vendors that embody the Big Sky mountain culture,” he said.
In the Spotlight
Greeting cards to gold
BIG SKY – The Big Sky Farmers Market is Sam Noland’s “best market.” The 5 year old from Anaconda, Montana, sells out of his handmade, colored bookmarks and marbled paint greeting cards nearly every week.
A few months ago he reached his goal of purchasing a metal detector with his earnings.
Noland has only unearthed a rusty nail, a staple and a battery thus far, but he remains undeterred.
“I want to find gold!” Noland said.
His parents Christine and Steve Noland, of C&S Noland Lapidary and Jewelry Design Studio, sell their hand-cut and handcrafted jewelry at a table adjacent to their aspiring artisan son. This is their second season having a booth at the Big Sky Farmers’ Market. – Sarah Gianelli