The Missoula Farmers Market has been around since 1972, when the Vietnam War was raging and the compact disc was still 10 years away from being invented.
The weekly summer gathering of vegetable growers, musicians and people-watchers at the Railroad Depot near the XXXXs has stayed true to its character over those 47 years, but now it's adapting to the changing culture of modern times with new vendors and unique offerings.
“We’re the old-school market,” explained market manager Florie Consolati. “But this year I think we’re seeing a change in the clientele.”
The Clark Fork Market near Caras Park started in 2005 and pretty much everyone agrees it feels busier and a little more energetic.
“It’s a little bit more laid back up there (at the Missoula Farmers Market),” explained Clark Fork Market manager Franco Salazar. "The two markets are similar but they each have a different vibe."
Consolati agrees. Both metaphorically and literally, the Missoula Farmers Market feels a little less energetic.
“We don’t have much access to electric power up here,” Consolati explained. “So our vendors have to be able to deal with that. We have more of a traditional vibe. People can have long conversations with the farmers here and ask them ‘what’s it been like growing this and that’ or ‘what can I cook with this’ and it’s a little less cramped and more relaxed."
"That’s what customers want here.”
But that doesn’t mean the market isn’t changing with the times.
“So this was a focus of ours this year was to really expand our food and drink options,” Consolati explained. “This year we are seeing more people who are coming just to get food.”
Iron Cakes, owned by Scott and Kayla Johnson, got a newer and bigger food truck for their breakfast and lunch waffle sandwich creations.
“Their business has been doing so well, they pretty much have a line the whole market,” Consolati said. “They do gluten-free waffles and you would never know they are gluten-free. They fold it into a sandwich, and you can get eggs, bacon and avocado or Nutella and fruit or chicken and waffles. They sell out.”
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Madeline’s Mediterranean Grill and Street Food joined the market this year, as did the Plum Bum, a food stall that serves Serbian plum dumplings.
Troy and Trent Yost, two brothers who live in Ronan, bring down their homemade coffee stand to serve their Dobson Creek Coffee Company products. They use a traditional siphon-brewing method using their homemade charcoal, and they also make a cascara soda from coffee fruit.
“We really needed a new coffee vendor because one of our longtime vendors retired last year, so it’s great to have Troy and Trent here,” Consolati explained.
Jaimee Vitolo competed on the popular cooking competition show MasterChef with Gordon Ramsay and got sixth place a few years ago.
“He called me the blueberry queen,” she recalled.
Now, she’s moved permanently to Missoula from New York and bakes cake donuts and other treats at her food stall called Tiny Whisk.
“It’s fun and funky,” she said of her creations. “I roast my own strawberries for the glaze and I use a 1958 family recipe for my buckle, which is like a coffee cake.”
Eddie Ridge and Micah Nelson converted a tiny van into the Mountain Tap Mobile Beverage Service, and now they pour beers and make mimosas every Saturday at the market.
“We get a lot of people who say they grew up here and are happy to see new things here every year,” Ridge explained.
It’s also the 30th anniversary of selling at the market for the Vang family, a group of Hmong relatives who grow vegetables in the area. Hundreds of Hmong came to Missoula from refugee camps after fleeing Laos in the late 1970s and early 1980s and have become an integral part of the culture and community of the Missoula area and especially its agricultural scene.
“I’ve been coming here with my family since I was a little kid,” said Tou Vang. “I grew up here. Some of my earliest memories are at the market. I love this place.”