Five years ago, Shawna Kelsey thought she was working to increase access to healthy food in rural Montana by starting a Farmers’ Market in Troy, in the northwest corner of Montana. Working for the Yaak Valley Forest Council, Shawna collaborated with a core group of vendors and volunteers, and that first season there were 2 vendors, and 25-50 patrons mingled in and out of the market.
Fast forward to 2016, where the market averaged 12 vendors and the event has become a community hub on Friday afternoons, bringing over 200 customers each week. Shawna says kids come by in the afternoons, and locals and quite a few seasonal tourists visit with the vendors–and each other–while browsing the fruits, vegetables, and crafts for sale.
We were excited to meet Shawna at one of AERO’s Growing Food Businesses: Opportunities Under Montana’s New Food Laws workshops held in last spring, and spoke with her recently to hear about the 2016 Farmers’ Market season and her successes and challenges with the new food policies.
The workshop helped Shawna become the go-to resource for vendors or consumers with questions about selling products, she says, instead of only having the county environmental health specialist as a source of information. “People get excited about selling things, and it doesn’t always make sense why they can or can’t do it,” Shawna told us, “items like Kombucha and Kimchi and salsa are raising lots of questions.”
A key piece of information Shawna gained from the workshop was that products that weren’t allowed in the past– such as spices and baking mixes — are now allowed under the new Cottage Food law. She came up with a list of new opportunities and items for vendors to consider selling.
Thanks to AERO’s Expo, workshops, and sustainable community, it has been easy for Shawna to network and gain support with other farmers markets, she says. The northwestern part of Montana is considered a food desert, and folks like Shawna are working hard to encourage the culture of local foods and sustainable agriculture in the area.
Luckily, even in rural areas, there are always those that surprise and encourage us, such as the Troy market vendor who lives in town and grows a market garden on ⅛ acre. Shawna says vendors are “hungry for knowledge” and that her vendor training series are well attended, encouraging new vendors to try their hand at selling at the Farmers’ Market.
The Troy Farmers’ Market is reducing food miles by leaps and bounds, and encouraging the community to first stop and shop from the neighborhood before heading to the big stores. One significant success was receiving a Federal Grant in 2016 to purchase a large cider press, which became a huge attraction during apple harvest time. Shawna estimates that in 4 hours over 75 gallons of cider were made with the press!
A quick browse of their very beautiful and informative facebook page can give you a peek into what this amazing group has accomplished. We’re happy to highlight the Troy Farmers’ Market, which is located at the lowest elevation in the state! It’s worth a drive to visit the market, which occurs on Fridays afternoons from 3:30 06:30 pm, June – September on the lawn of the Troy Museum.