In early 1974 members of the Organic Farming and Gardening Club petitioned the Kalispell city council for the use of a parking lot as a site for weekly farmers market. The parking lot was situated on First Avenue West, between Third and Fourth Streets, across from the bowling alley.
The organizers of the petition were Muriel Schwartz, Pat Freebury, and Doug Fox. Later, Loy Robinson, Lawrence Oursland, Stan Gross, Mickey Petry, and Terrance Sunstead joined the effort. The plan was supported by local citizens, the County Extension Office, the Chamber of Commerce, and the Kalispell Central Business Association. The efforts of many paid off, and the incorporation of the Kalispell Farmers Market was established on May 20th, 1974.
A farmers market was not a new idea. Farmers markets in similar forms had been in existence for many years before this time, as far back as the 1930s and 1940s. This market was called the Women’s Market. The market was held between, Second Avenue and Third Street West in Kalispell. In the early years, breads, pies, jams, and jellies, eggs, produce, dressed chickens, and fancy handwork were sold by the ladies of the community every Saturday morning from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. The market was organized through the Home Demonstration Clubs for the benefit of farm women.
A market master was employed to manage the market. Fees of twenty–five cents to two dollars a table, and two dollars and fifty cents to ten dollars per pickup trucks, were charged. The fees were used to support the expense of the market. Local banks, including Conrad National Bank, 1st National Bank and 1st Security Bank donated start-up money and parking spaces.
In 1976 the fee was changed to a flat rate of 5% of vendors’ sales. That fee stood for many years. The fees have changed over the years as the cost of operations has increased.
The Conrad Bank parking lot was the site for the market from 1978 to 1987, when it was moved to the west parking lot the Kalispell Center Mall. The move allowed for a much-needed parking expansion. The market grew rapidly and filled all the spaces available. Vendors who wished to have the same parking space every week subscribed by paying a fee for each spring and summer season. The growth of the market eventually required hiring more employees. In addition to the market master, a parking assistant and an accountant joined the team.
Today, money realized from the Kalispell market commissions, beyond what is needed to manage the market, is used to provide scholarships, 4-H awards, Northwest Montana Fair awards, and awards for the Forestry Expo and Science Fair.
As the number of vendors has grown, the variety of goods for sale has expanded as well. Today a wide selection of vegetables, baked goods, garden plants, cut and dried flowers, fresh frozen meat and fish can usually be found as well as many unique arts and crafts.
A Tuesday evening market was held at the Mall site for a few years. This market was much smaller, with mostly seasonal produce and plants being sold. An indoor market, held after the last outdoor market of the season, was added in 1989. The indoor market was held at the Eagles Hall for a few years and then was moved to the Northwest Montana Fair Grounds in 1993.
Neila Elgin, the granddaughter of Tiny any Everett Kelch, designed the market logo. Everett was a market regular for many years. He also served on the board of directors. Everett was storyteller and a poet. He is remembered for reciting his poems at market meetings or to a customer who would stop by to listen as they passed through the market.
The market has been a generation-spanning activity for many Flathead Valley Families. The Louden and Passmore families have participated for three generations. The Fisher family has been involved in the market for more than twenty years and they are on the third generation as well. Others, too, have long histories with the Kalispell Farmers Market. Food vendors have been added over the years and continue to grow in numbers.
In 2013, the Market was moved to the Flathead Community College parking lot where it currently continues every Saturday, from the first Saturday in May thru the second Saturday in October. The indoor market continues to be held on the third Saturday in October at the Flathead County Fairgrounds.
Best of all is the camaraderie among the vendors and the community. The market is a great place to visit your neighbors on a Saturday morning while enjoying getting FRESH produce, plants, unique gifts, furniture, coffee, sweet treats, and delicious hot and cold food.
Montana supports more Farmers Markets than any other western state except California.
**This excerpt was originally published in the Market Fresh Cuisine Cookbook published in 2005 by LeAna Sacrison and has been slightly altered to add a few updates.