By Joseph T. O’Connor Explorebigsky.com Senior Editor
BIG SKY – The Big Sky Farmers Market is growing as fast as the corn in eastern Montana. This year, there’s a waiting list for vendors, and event coordinator Wendy Swenson is working hard to keep up.
“We have at least 100 vendors every week this summer,” said Swenson, who is also the events and marketing coordinator for the market’s host, Big Sky Town Center. “We’ve actually had a waiting list for two weeks now.”
The farmers markets began in Big Sky five years ago, and Swenson, along with Town Center’s Ryan Hamilton, who helped initiate the events, has enjoyed watching them flourish. They were initially free for vendors, but even now Big Sky’s market is affordable, Swenson says.
The season includes eight markets running from 5-8 p.m. every Wednesday, July 10 through Sept. 4, excluding July 31 when the Professional Bull Riding event occurs in the Town Center. Vendors pay $75 for the season – a bargain according to Craig Krzycki, who’s been with the market since its inception.
“It’s a killer deal,” said Krzycki, an antler artist who owns Big Sky Antler and sets up a booth during the markets. “It’s under $10 a show, [so] even if it’s a bust for you, you’re not out a bunch of money.”
Krzycki since the late ‘90s has used all-natural sheds to make his antler art, combining different mediums including copper and brass to make everything from $1 antler buttons to $5,000 sculptures. He enjoys the Big Sky market for its community feel, its tourist draw and its payoffs.
“I probably do three times better at the farmers markets in Big Sky than other ones,” said Krzycki, who lives in Gallatin Canyon north of Big Sky and has vended his wares at farmers markets in Bozeman and in art shows across the country. “I think people are really starting to buy [things] truly made in the area. They’re people on vacation who want to bring things back from Big Sky, Montana.”
In addition to a broad variety of vendors this summer, market-goers can expect the return of the family-friendly bounce house as well as live music by local acts, including Bluebird Sky, Jeff Bellino and Brian Stumpf, the latter two playing solo at the market. On July 17, singer/songwriter Mike Haring will perform from an eclectic list of original tunes and covers by Johnny Cash, Jack Johnson and Pearl Jam, among others.
While the markets are hosted by Town Center, Swenson notes that the events are supported by many local businesses. The money collected goes toward marketing and promoting the events, as well as extra costs such as the bounce house and music, according to Swenson. Vendors are required to pay the 3 percent resort tax on all sales conducted at the markets, benefitting the Big Sky community at large.
In the past, Swenson says the Big Sky Farmers Market averaged 85-90 vendors a week. Now the close-knit vendor community, which travels around the region on a weekly basis, is helping this farmers market take root.
“It usually takes three to four years to get established,” she said. “Word of mouth from vendors has been our biggest proponent. They’re like family.”