Hamilton Farmers Market Co-op
Hamilton Farmers Market Co-op History
Written by Rod Daniel
With input from Clover Quinn, Bart Pickard and Laura Craig
The Hamilton Farmers Market began in 1992 as a fundraiser for the Ravalli County Museum. The museum already had sponsored Bitter Root Day and Apple Day markets. Because Saturday had always been the museum’s slowest day, museum director Helen Ann Bibler thought that a weekly market might be a nice fundraiser and attract new support for the museum. Booth fees were $5. The museum paid for the advertising and the rest of the money went to the Bitter Root Valley Historical Society (BRVHS). Joe Bryan was the first market master, a volunteer position he held for two years.
Numerous attempts had been made over the previous few years to hold a season-long farmers market, but the markets always fizzled due to lack of vendor commitment. Also, for about 10 years, Lifeline Produce had a vegetable stand on N. First Street where McDonalds is now, but when McDonalds arrived in 1992, Lifeline removed its stand. The fact that there was no longer a source of fresh, locally grown produce sold in Hamilton, coupled with a growing population in the valley, set the stage for a successful farmers market.
The number of vendors varied from about eight to as many as 20 for the first several years. Some of the original vendors included Angela Krebs, Sandy Fleischman, Jim and Ausra West, Rod Daniel, and employees of Garden City Seeds. The original vendors made a commitment to try and be there every Saturday so customers would not be disappointed.
Bruce Jones took over as volunteer market master in 1994 and the market continued to grow. As the market grew, vendors assumed more of a role in managing the market and established a steering committee which worked with the museum director and board. In about 1997, the museum and steering committee hired the first paid market master, Patty Nelson. She was followed by Margaret Madeen as well as several other market masters.
An early important decision by the steering committee included making a rule that in order to sell at the market a vendor had to be a resident of Ravalli County and sell something that was grown or made in Montana. The rationale was to keep the products in the market unique – no Tupperware, Mary Kay etc. – and to try and ensure that the money generated would stay in Ravalli County.
In about 2001, several vendors became disgruntled with the management of the market, believing that the vendors could manage the market better without the BRVHS. One of these vendors took it upon himself to register the name, Hamilton Farmers Market, with the Montana Secretary of State. He then went from vendor to vendor announcing that he was in charge. The steering committee, with the support of the BRVHS, mobilized an effort to stave off what it considered a hostile takeover of the market. In the end, the vendors voted on whether to split from the BRVHS and let this new group of vendors manage the market, or to remain under the umbrella of BRVHS and be managed by an elected steering committee. Vendors voted 75% to 25% to stay with the museum.
Some of the positive results of this growing pain were a more involved steering committee, more formalized by-laws and thoughtful rules and regulations, written by a committee of vendors in 2002.
From about 2000 to 2006, the market continued to grow. In 2005 the steering committee hired Laura Craig as its market manager. In 2006, issues related to liability insurance prompted the BRVHS Board to separate the farmers market from the Museum.
In 2007, the farmers market expanded onto Third Street, added the “Food Court”, and officially became the “Hamilton Farmers Market Co-op”. What previously had been a steering committee working under the umbrella of BRVHS, became a vendor cooperative board of directors managing its own business.
Under Laura’s management, the Hamilton Farmers Market blossomed as it accommodated growth spurred on by the collapsing greater economy. The market spread to Second Street in front of City Hall and, with the economic recovery, has condensed back to Bedford Street, Third Street south with an overflow space on Third Street north of the Bedford intersection. Every year there are more produce and fruit vendors as well as local artists and crafters at the farmers market.
The weekly market is an economic catalyst for the entire Bitterroot Valley and is a signature event for the city of Hamilton. It currently boasts an average of 90 vendors selling non-GMO, locally grown produce, a wide array of hot food and baked goods, and unique, locally hand-crafted wares. Local musicians are regularly featured and available spaces are free to non-profits.
This history of quality, reliability and cooperation provides Hamilton Farmers Market Co-op with a solid foundation as we begin our 25th year of offering the best in the Bitter Root Valley!
Come enjoy the fruits of our labor from our farms, gardens, kitchens and studios!
December 2015 Announcement
Bart Pickard, long time friend of the Hamilton Farmers Market, went skiing and didn’t return. He is now one with the all: snow, trees, mountains and sky. And likely google earth.
As a Market vendor (BSM Engraving), Board member, IT Guy and fun person, Bart’s kind generosity and support will be greatly missed. Ski on, big guy. Thanks for everything ~