Whitefish, Montana, is the kind of small Western town where locals will nod at strangers passing on the street with a polite “Good morning” but also the kind of place where people will ask your last name if you tell them you grew up here. It’s that small-town feel and strong community ethos—along with Rocky Mountain scenery, recreation-friendly lakes, and close proximity to Glacier National Park—that bring a crush of tourists and vacation homeowners into the valley every summer. It also helps that we have two local breweries and a microdistillery right in town.
The Tuesday evening farmers’ market runs all summer through the end of September with an ample supply of organic, family-farmed vegetables and fruit, specialty food trucks, and local craftspeople and artists. Its only flaw, year-round residents like me grumble, is the crush of crowds during the summer months. The market is held in the public park in front of the busy Burlington Northern train yard, where both oil trains and Amtrak’s passenger line run straight through the middle of town. Train workers have been known to complain that they can’t get to work on Tuesday nights, and with its downtown location and popularity, the farmers market can be hard to maneuver for those just wanting to bicycle in and grab their CSA shares.
Come September and the school season, though, tourists disappear and vacation homeowners trickle away. The locals come out of the woodwork (or, more likely, out of their backcountry camping and kayaking trips) and spend a little more time lingering at a market big enough for variety but small enough that we know every farmer’s name. It’s got food, music, art, and all our friends. The only thing missing is a beer stand, but luckily the Great Northern Brewing Company is right across the street for a post-market brew.
Antonia Malchik writes about food, education, environment, and travel. Follow her on Twitter @amalchik.
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The market is held in front of the Burlington Northern train yard, where the ever-present backdrop of the Whitefish Ski & Summer Resort on Big Mountain is an iconic landmark. This year, September marked the first time for several weeks that the mountains weren't hidden by wildfire smoke.
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Sarah Harding of Buggy Road Farm specializes in microgreens, which she grows and sells year-round. She's one of the few farmers able to provide greens to locals in the off-season, running an 8-week microgreen CSA in spring and fall when we're craving, to paraphrase Barbara Kingsolver, "things that crunch."
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Montana doesn't get a long or varied fruit season. When Dixon Melons starts selling out of the back of their pickup truck, the line for their ripe melons is always long.
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Emily Barge is a local photographer and jeweler whose jewelry will often include earrings made with old guitar picks, or necklaces formed from wax molds of local natural landmarks. She honed her jewelry-making skills in the metalsmithing classes held at nearby Flathead Valley Community College.
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Flathead Lake Cheese Company, which runs a completely solar-powered operation in Polson, about a 45-minute drive away, sells cheese curds and an excellent fresh feta. Their specialty is the Doorstop Gouda, which has the taste and texture of a semi-waxy sharp cheddar. They also sell goudas flavored with chai spices, garlic, and local hops.
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Tasting fresh cheese curds from Flathead Lake Cheese Company.
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Many local businesses build their initial customer base in the farmers' market. Glacier Ginger Brew, selling locally brewed ginger beer, got their start in the farmers' market before finally opening up a retail location.
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Glacier Ginger Brew sells growlers for filling at the market or at their new retail location in the nearby Stumptown Marketplace. Their motto reads, "Careful, she kicks!" The straight-up ginger beer has a strong bite.
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Down on the west shore of Flathead Lake is the valley's cherry-growing region. Cherry season starts and ends way too quickly in midsummer, but Good Earth Orchards is branching out into other fruits that have been traditionally tricky to grow during Montana's short, often chilly summers. The result is surprisingly sweet and juicy peaches, plums, and varieties of grapes like Interlaken and sweet Concords.
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The farmers' market is home to craftspeople and artists of all kinds, from woodworkers to painters to people spinning and dyeing their own knitting yarns. Or, in the case of Hemp Skin Care, skin care products.