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Missoula winter farmers market moves to old Lucky's store at mall

Missoula winter farmers market moves to old Lucky's store at mall

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Max Smith, owner of Missoula Grain and Vegetable Co., talks with Winter Market shoppers in 2016, when it was located at the Elks Lodge, as Katie Madden packs up some of their fresh produce

There’ll be a farmers market in Missoula all through the winter at a larger location, and anyone on food stamps can get twice as much bang for their buck while shopping there.

The Missoula Valley Winter Market has announced it has secured the old Lucky’s Market space at Southgate Mall for the upcoming season. They’ll be open every Saturday from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m. from Nov. 14 through the end of April.

Market manager Franco Salazar said vendors and customers are excited about the move, because there’ll be much more space and much more parking compared to the old location at the Missoula Senior Citizens Center on Higgins Avenue.

“We’re pretty excited,” he said. “We’ll have plenty of parking. Depending on the days, we might even have a couple food trucks pulled up there because it’d be nice to do something in the parking lot.”

There’s been a huge amount of interest, and Salazar said the winter market will feature 60 vendors this season, compared to about 40 last year. The last five markets earlier this spring were cancelled due to the stay-at-home order in Montana. The market features fresh vegetables, locally-produced meats, eggs, bread, cheeses, arts and crafts and other items throughout the winter.

“We have the capacity for probably a few more vendors,” he said. “We’re still trying to get spaces mapped out. We’re adhering to COVID regulations and taking that into consideration.”

Producers like Earth Oven Bread and Missoula Grain and Vegetable Co. are longtime favorites at the farmers market, he said, and customers will find plenty of new surprises this year.

Masks will be required, and there will be clearly defined entrances and exits to keep the flow of traffic in one direction. Salazar said they’re still working with the local health department to see if they can have live music to entertain people while they shop. He said the old grocery store still has signs that say “Fresh organic produce” and “Coffee this way” that the market intends to capitalize upon.

Salazar said that because the summer markets saw fewer customers than usual for most producers, many area farmers are looking forward to having a customer base throughout the winter to make up for lost sales.

“The farmers all worked harder for the same amount of money this year because the markets have been a little slower, so many of our farmers are now planting later in the season and plan to be at the winter market,” he said.

During the holiday season, the market may add another day.

People who are on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the federal food stamp program known as SNAP that helps people with low incomes afford groceries, will benefit by shopping at the market as well.

The Community Food and Agriculture Coalition in Missoula has a program to double the purchasing power of SNAP dollars used at the farmers markets in Missoula, according to executive director Bonnie Buckingham.

"When somebody uses their SNAP card at the farmers market, the Double SNAP matches whatever the amount is,” she explained. “So if they want $10 worth of food stamps, we provide an additional $10 of tokens. Those can be spent at any vendors at the market. At the end of the market, vendors turn those in and get reimbursed by the full amount. It benefits the farmer and that way, it keeps the cost of shopping at the farmers market affordable.”

She said the program is in place at 25 sites across the state.

“Double Snap is available at the downtown markets through the end of the season, and as soon as the winter market starts, people will be able to utilize it there,” Buckingham said.

Lucky’s Market, a national grocery chain, announced it was closing its Missoula location and many other stores in early January. Southgate Mall manager Tim Winger confirmed that the Missoula Valley Winter Market will be the tenant for the space through April.

A massive new SCHEELS All Sports sporting goods store is under construction at the other end of the mall, with an opening date scheduled for the fall of 2021.

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