Helena, Mont. – It’s springtime in Montana, which means Farmers Market season has begun. Seventy-nine (79) markets are registered with the Montana Department of Agriculture for the 2016 season and a directory is available online at farmersmarket.mt.gov. Farmers Markets are a fantastic source of fresh, local produce, meats and delicious value-added foods that have been cultivated and prepared by farmers and ranchers across the state. Montana Farmers Markets are community events that are well attended by locals and tourists alike, as many markets host food trucks, activities for kids and families, and craft vendors in addition to local agriculture stands.
“I encourage Montanans and visitors to our state to experience local farmers markets and support Montana farmers and ranchers,” said Ron de Yong, Director of the Montana Department of Agriculture. “Farmers Markets are a perfect showcase of the high quality products we grow and produce, while providing an additional revenue stream for producers who participate.”
Shopping at a Farmers Market means that you will get some of the freshest produce available, and you are supporting local farmers and ranchers by purchasing directly. In addition, many markets accept SNAP benefits, and a handful participate in the DoubleBucks program that helps make those benefits go farther. Visit www.ncat.org for more information on this program. Remember that most markets only accept cash or checks. Check with your local market to see if they accept Debit/Credit cards, or visit an ATM before you go.
Here are five tips from the department to make the most from the experience and to make Farmers Market shopping easy:
1. Getting to know your farmer. One of the greatest benefits of shopping at a farmers market is that you have the opportunity to get to know and build a relationship with the hard working producers that maintain Montana's agricultural heritage.
2. Bring your family/friends and take your time. Farmers markets are a great chance to spend time with family and friends in the Montana sunshine, taking in the carnival-like atmosphere as people circulate around the booths and local musicians play.
3. Go early… or go late. The best selection and most popular items are often available at the beginning of the day, while the best deals may occur later in the day when vendors discount items so they don’t have to haul them home.
4. Experiment and get advice. Don't be afraid to try something new. If you find a vegetable that's new to you, ask the farmer how to prepare it. For the best tips, specifically ask how they like to eat it. Look online for new recipe ideas. You may discover a new favorite food!
5. Bring your own bags and coolers. Although some Farmers Market vendors have bags and boxes, it's easiest if you bring your own reusable bags with handles – and it also reduces waste. Coolers with ice packs in your vehicle keep your refrigerated products fresh and at their peak.
For a list of Montana Farmers Markets in your area, a farmers market map and other information such as seasonal availability of produce, visit farmersmarkets.mt.gov.
Source: The Montana Department of Agriculture’s mission is to protect producers and consumers, and to enhance and develop agriculture and allied industries. For more information on the Montana Department of Agriculture, visit www.agr.mt.gov.