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Missoula farmer's markets making changes while status is up in the air

Posted at 7:59 PM, Apr 30, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-30 21:59:38-04

MISSOULA — The fate of farmer's markets in Missoula is up in the air due to the pandemic.

Organizers are making changes so vendors and community members can still enjoy the market.

For many Missoulians, the first weekend in May means spring, and the farmer's market, are all finally here. But this year, the Clark Fork River Market is going to have to look a little different if it wants to open.

"Our employees payroll is mostly covered by the farmer's market," Tracy Potter-Fins said.

Potter-Fins operates County Rail Farm outside of Missoula. She says with this year included, the farm sees almost no income from November to the early spring.

"There's a lot of us out here that are growing food, and want to support and feed our communities," Potter-Fins said. "We're doing everything we can to get it into the hands of the people that need it."

Market manager Kirsten Hands says she has spent the past month planning, updating vendors, hiring volunteers, and setting up an online order system.

"It's gonna be scaled back," Hands said. "We're gonna be thinking about the good of our community, and the good of our ag producers, and treating the market as a grocery store."

That means only offering fresh produce and farm products, limiting number of visitors, installing hand washing stations, and getting gloves and masks, among other changes.

"I know a lot of people think if you're outside that reduces your risk, that's not actually true," Missoula City-County Health Department Incident Commander Cindy Farr said.

The Missoula City-County Health Department says farmer's markets are social events, so Hands is meeting with health officers to reclassify it, and get the go ahead.

"Our main concern is for our vendors," Hands said.

Farmer Jesse Johnson and his family have brought food to the market for 16 years.

"You see all the same faces come back year after year, decade after decade," Johnson said. "It's kind of a good feeling watching families grow up, and they're watching your kids grow up. For me the best thing is getting the hugs at the very beginning of the year, and seeing everybody come back."

While he won't be able to get those hugs this year, Johnson hopes to get back to the booth.

Following a meeting with the health department on Thursday afternoon, the Clark Fork River Market and the Missoula Farmer's Market decided to work together to find a new venue for distribution.