Great Falls Farmer’s Market expanding; encouraging connection with local producers

The Great Falls Farmer’s Market opened for the season today with about 140 vendors.

By next week, more vendors will be packed into the Civic Center parking lot, Park Drive and the Downtowner parking lot behind Park Place.

The market is also working to expand into the parking lot by Energy West, between the Civic Center and the Great Falls Police Department, making space for at least another 23 vendors, according to Erin Borland, president of the market’s board.

“We want to keep growing,” Borland said.

This year, the market includes more food vendors as more local businesses have added food trucks and others have popped in with baked goods. There’s also been an uptick in soap and woodworking vendors this year, Borland said.

June 9 will be the Welcome to the Market event with a scavenger hunt, kids crafts, a gyroscope, the Voyagers blowup T-ball and more. The market runs through September and includes an event each month.

Another first this year is a $500 scholarship for the children who either set up their own booths or come regularly with their parents to man a booth. All that time spent at the market is teaching them about business and agriculture, so Borland said the market wanted to further support them.

The market dates back to the 1970s when Hutterite colonies sold their produce door-to-door and then a handful began setting up and selling produce by the Civic Center. In 1982, the adopted bylaws and became a non-profit trade association.

The market started in Margaret Park on the north side of the Civic Center and moved to Whittier Park on the south side of the building when they outgrew the first space. In 1993, there were about 40 vendors and by 2000 there were 110 vendors, according to the market.

The market is still a non-profit and is managed by a board of directors.

It’s a family friendly event every Saturday from 7:45 a.m. to noon, but dogs are not allowed. Those with service animals should check in with market managers.

The market started a way for local producers to sell their vegetables and now it’s helping grow the local food scene.

It’s a slow growth, but Jacob and Courtney Cowgill of Blue Truck Bread and Prairie Heritage Farm have noticed over the last nine years that more people are asking about how their food was produced.

They sell vegetables at the Great Falls Farmer’s Market and have expanded to include breads baked from the heritage and ancient grains they grow and grind at their Power farm.

Baking with the ancient grain varieties isn’t all that different from using modern flour since it has more to do with picking a flour that’s good for bread baking in general. That means protein and gluten and developing the best flavors, Jacob Cowgill said.

They’ve been participating in the Great Falls Farmer’s Market since 2009 and Jacob Cowgill said he’s noticed a gradual change.

More people at the Saturday market are asking whether the food is grown or made by them or whether it’s organic, he said.

But the desire for locally sourced food is growing beyond the farmer’s market and the bread Cowgill bakes is available at Electric City Coffee and 2J’s Fresh Market. Electric City Coffee also offers menu items with produce from the Cowgill’s farm.

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Starting June 8, the Cowgill’s are opening a farm store that will include produce and bread. The store will be open noon to 6 p.m. on Fridays. For now, it will just include items from Prairie Heritage Farm and Blue Truck Bread to gauge interest.

They have neighbors who make goat’s milk soaps and Courtney Cowgill likes the idea of a rural corner store, so the farm store could grow in the coming years.