Including on the Fourth of July, the Bitterroot's Weekday Farmers Market is open every Wednesday through September for filling the refrigerator or picnic basket at The O'Hara Commons in Hamilton.
The downtown location has a relaxed atmosphere for midweek shopping with free taste tests and recipes highlighting local foods.
Local growers and food producers include: Yourganic Farm, Missoula Grain & Vegetable Company, Ellen & Ian, Lifeline Farm, Bee Happy Farm, House of Ferments, Alpenstuble Bretzel Factory, Swift River Farm, Sweet Belly Farm and Odd Fellows Bakery.
Samantha O’Byrne, executive director of The O'Hara Commons & Sustainability Center, said Laura Craig encouraged the formation of the weekday market. Craig is the manager of the Hamilton Farmers Market that runs each Saturday on Bedford and Third Streets.
“For years she realized that consumers and producers had a demand for a midweek market,” O’Byrne said. “With their location they couldn’t pull it together on the street, so she supplied us with all we needed in terms of logistics and getting going. She was a huge supporter and the initiator of us starting the midweek market even though we are completely separate.”
The market lines up with The O'Hara Commons' mission of connecting local people to local food.
O’Byrne said that the demographics for The O’Hara Commons include numbers from Lemhi County in Idaho. “It has an incredible high rate of poverty and so many people from Lemhi County actually access Ravalli County for some of their shopping and other needs,” she said. “It is nice to be able to provide those growers with another venue also.”
The Salmon Valley table represents a group of people who refer to themselves as a “loose coalition” as they are not an official organization. The table has products from Sweet Belly Farm, Odd Fellow Bakery, Swift River Farm produce, Summer Creek Farm Goods and 45 North Farm.
Cameron Rolle, owner and producer of Sweet Belly products, said coming to Hamilton started as a sharing of events, communication and knowledge on both sides of the pass.
“Sam knew most of us from spring projects as you all in the Bitterroot are our major urban center. And yet nobody in the Bitterroot knows what is going on in Salmon unless they stop on their way to Goldbug,” Rolle said. “The O’Hara Commons market asked us to come but it’s a long drive to come each week.”
The idea of every other week was thrown out because consistency is key to customer satisfaction. Instead, individual businesses connected and share the work.
“It takes a lot of different people to make it worth it after three hours driving and a couple of hours to set up,” Rolle said. “It is great to network and sell produce. Last week was really busy.”
Rolle’s Sweet Belly Farm sells “herbal goodness” focused on herbal healing products made with locally sourced and wild-crafted herbs.
“We are tapping into the healing power of native plants like yarrow, arnica, and cottonwood bud that grow wild right here in the mountains around the Salmon Valley in Idaho, and growing other herbs on our friend's farm, Swift River Farm,” Rolle said. “I do everything herbal — salves, lip balms, tinctures, bath salts, dried tea blends and dried herbs. I also infuse herbs in my jams, jellies, and syrups made from locally gleaned fruit from the area.”
Odd Fellow Bakery bread is baked in a wood-fired oven. Their sourdough is given a long fermentation time to make the grain more digestible, healthier and with a unique flavor. All the hearth and pan loaves brought to O'Hara are baked fresh that morning.
“It is a big hit because a lot to people from the Bitterroot know Odd Fellows,” Rolle said.
The 45 North Farm makes batches of hand-made cheese in the Salmon River Valley. Their Jersey cows are fed 100 percent grass and raised without hormones or antibiotics.
“They do raw milk but can’t sell it in Montana,” Rolle said. “Look forward to aged cheese later in the summer.”
Swift River Farm is a vegetable farm run by Jeremy Shreve and Jessica McAleese. The duo uses regenerative and sustainable farming and “strives for ecological, economical and socially just ways to grow and eat our food,” McAleese said. “We believe that change happens when a person connects their passion and talents with the needs of the community and when all is said and done, we find ourselves growing more than just good food.”
Summer Creek Farm Goods, run by Frances Mueller — wife, mother of four and “C-E-I-E-I-O,” as she calls herself — sells organic, non-GMO, soy-free eggs from free-range chicken and duck hens.
“Our micro farm keeps very happy hens who make wonderful deep golden yolks unlike any you will find in a store,” she said. “They eat as many bugs as they can catch on our alfalfa and clover pasture.”
Mueller said Summer Creek Farm Goods is a family adventure to teach their children where food begins.
Bitterroot Grower Ian Hullings, with partner Ellen Thomas of Ellen & Ian, said the midweek market is gaining patrons.
“We’re catching a bunch of people that can’t come to Saturday market so, we’re broadening their horizons,” Hullings said. “It’s more mellow but people are coming. People want midweek strawberries and peas, so they show up for them.”
On Wednesday, Hullings had a variety of oyster mushrooms including blues (winter mushroom), pohu and pearl.
“It’s kind of been our winter project,” Hullings said. “We’ve always wanted to grow oyster mushrooms and other mushrooms as well. We taught ourselves to grow them over the winter.”
Jen Holmes with Lifeline Farms said the farm has been there 40 years, starting in 1978. The O’Hara midweek market is the only Hamilton famers market Lifeline Farms does.
“We support O’Hara and their mission to support local vendors and encourage people to eat more local food,” Holmes said. “Just like some people can’t make the Saturday market, we can’t either. We are doing the Missoula market and don’t have enough staff.”
Lifeline’s Thuringer sausage is exclusively sold at the O’Hara market.
“It is summer sausage that is ready to eat and perfect for on the river in the summer,” Holmes said.
Tracie Norman, owner of Bee Happy Honey, said she sells her product at the O’Hara Market to provide her customers with another location.
“Throughout the winter we meet people all over town and this is perfect for people who don’t want to go to the Saturday market,” she said.
She had honey straws and jars of honey made by local hard-working bees.
The Bitterroot's Weekday Farmers Market is accepting senior coupons and is authorized to take Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) coupons. Thanks to a grant for the $800 SNAP processing machine, the market is wireless and ready to go.
O’Byrne said she is pleased with the market's diversity.
“We have four produce growers and House of Ferments and Alpenstuble who have incredible loyal followings,” she said. “Staying open on the Fourth of July wasn’t a hard decision. I mean, where does everybody go midweek? Our vendors decided to be open. The crops don’t wait, we have to keep harvesting. This year we started a full month earlier to get people in the habit of filling their refrigerators midweek with fresh produce.”
Shop Bitterroot's Weekday Farmers Market at the O'Hara Commons & Sustainability Center, 111 South 4th Street, Hamilton, from 4:30 until 6:30 p.m. every Wednesday afternoon through Sept. 26.
“We provide tastes and recipes to give people ideas of what to do with the produce available,” O’Byrne said. “We wanted to be a nice, speedy market where people come in and go out. People are welcome to stay. There are places to sit with a place for kids to play. It is a really comfortable venue.”