Story and photos
by Ellen Thompson
On Saturday mornings, Havre's more industrious residents have a place to gather - the farmers market at Town Square. There, farmers and hopeful entrepreneurs sell their wares to a loyal crowd of eager shoppers.
Anne Hofer's morning began early on Saturday. At 5:30 a.m. she was loading fresh produce and baked goods into a truck at the Turner Hutterite Colony. About an hour later, she arrived in Havre, collected an umbrella and tables stored at her sister's house in Havre, and then set up for the day.
By 9 a.m., Hofer and several other Turner Colony members were ready for the steady stream of shoppers that comes through until noon. Saturday's crowd was the biggest since the market began this summer on July 9, she said. Hofer said she's noticed that each market season is busier than the year before.
This is the third year the Havre Area Chamber of Commerce has sponsored the market at Town Square, executive director Debbie Vandeberg said.
"We thought that would be a great location because of the visibility," she said. The Town Square was the natural location for the market after the chamber completed a beautification project for that spot three years ago, she said.
The market itself has existed in different locations and different forms for years, Vandeberg said. It had all but died off when a group of downtown merchants came to the chamber and suggested it be brought back. Since that time, interest has increased and Vandeberg said she hopes it will one day equal some of the large-scale weekend markets that are held throughout the state.
"I like to go to all the booths and visit with people," Hofer said after buying two children's baseball bats from another booth Saturday. She makes the trip each week and said she enjoys the chance to meet people from other communities.
Judy Webie was at the market Saturday trying to kick-start her business, Tiny's Treasures. Webie works six days a week at Rail's Inn, and Saturday was her first chance to try out the business she hopes to expand into a seasonal store in the fall and winter.
Not far from Webie, Danelle Bakke sat with her daughter Kelsey selling bath products and jewelry she makes as a hobby. It was Bakke's first Saturday Market and she found that business was good, selling quite a few bracelets and earrings.
Teenagers Tyler Ellis and Cody Johnson take advantage of the weekend market to make some extra money. The two bake cookies and cakes and sell them by the slice to hungry shoppers.
Among the roughly 15 stands on Saturday, each operator had very different reasons for setting up shop. Stacie Shurina and her family brought some things out of storage to sell. Shurina said she hopes the market can take on a flea market aspect as well, though so far organizers have discouraged it.
Next to the Shurinas on the strip of the square closest to First Street, Brian Bauer sells chain saw carved bears to supplement his monthly income.
Bauer, who lives in Chinook, is self-employed, and when the economy slowed down about a year ago, he began to carve the bears, he said. Several Havre businesses and the H. Earl Clack Museum sell Bauer's chummy creations, which never snarl.
Bauer hunts for interesting wood, making his bears out of Russian olive, spruce and ash trees and sometimes selling a few at a time. By 10:30 a.m. on Saturday, however, Bauer hadn't sold a bear.
Back at Webie's stand, business was also slow. She had yet to make a sale, she said.
The day was better for people selling food. Saddle Butte Custom Smoking was doing steady business, with owner Dave Anderson cooking skewered pork and turkey on a barbecue and his wife, Diane, selling frozen sausages and other meat products from inside the couple's freezer truck.
Among shoppers, retired city worker Hamid Abdallah said he came to the market Saturday to "goof around," purchasing some vegetables without a specific meal in mind.
Carole Bloom came with her 98-year-old mother to shop and began by seeing what looked good.
"Everything is so fresh," Bloom said, looking over a stand run by the East End Hutterite Colony. "I'm exited this is open now."
Bloom and her mother, Bell Molle, made a few circuits before deciding what meal they were shopping for. Creamed peas and new potatoes, Bloom finally decided, after seeing she already bought the ingredients.
She bought summer sausage from Anderson to complete her shopping for the day.
Anderson was sold out of several products by noon and had good things to say about the market.
"It's a central location," he said. "At the farmers market, people come here to shop."
He has set up his freezer truck in Big Sandy and other Hi-Line towns without doing great business, he said.
When Anderson began smoking meats, it was just for himself.
"I'd prepare my own, and pretty soon it's a friend and a friend of a friend," he said. In 1994, after smoking meats for 15 years, Anderson began his business. Since the farmers market started at Town Square two summers ago, Anderson has been there nearly every weekend, he said.
Vandeberg agrees that the market serves several purposes.
"It's bringing people into the area," she said. "It kind of creates a connection between the community and the farmers and the tourists."
Vandeberg recalled watching tourists buying coffee and some muffins from a local businesswoman at a recent market.
"It provides a nice atmosphere for the community," she said, adding that she thinks the market is good for downtown businesses as well because it brings in foot traffic.
As for the idea of testing products at the market: "It's a great idea," she said. "If their product or whatever they are doing does well at the market, that does provide them at least a little idea" of whether it will work.
The day hadn't gone well for Webie as she loaded her goods back into her car. But she was determined to try her luck again. Saturday was just her first attempt, she said.
Vandeberg has found support for the market that will help it grow. She contacted two organizations that promote value-added agricultural products and local produce - the Montana Agriculture Innovation Center and the Alternative Energy Resource Organization. Through them, Vandeberg said, she hopes she and local business partners can get more ideas about how to promote and expand the market.