Blustery but a banner day all the same is Mark Langdorf’s assessment.
Standing by his cart where hot dogs, polish sausages and brats await hungry folks passing by at the opening of the Farmers Market in downtown Helena, he smiles and said the day’s been fantastic.
“This is the best opening day in the last three seasons,” he said.
Langdorf, who is on the market’s board of directors, figures there are between 75 and 80 vendors filling the two-block stretch of Fuller Avenue. At its best last year, he added, the market had around 125 vendors.
He expects the street to fill with vendors and those there to shop and chat as the summer gets underway. The market is held each Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and extends into the fall.
Gusts of wind on this day, however, occasionally send vendors scurrying after bags and papers and some of the lighter wares, such as neckerchiefs for dogs, that are for sale.
“It’s springtime in Montana, so it’s windy,” Langdorf said. “So canopies are coming down, going up and going across the street.”
Now in its 40th year, the market has patrons who say they spend most Saturday mornings there. The crowd saunters its way up and down the street. People pause when something catches their eye such as the sapphire jewelry, hand-carved rocking horses for children, Montana honey, jams, birdhouses and whirly-gigs, lotions, crocheted blankets and colorful quilts.
Baked goods beckon from tables beneath umbrellas and canopies. Those at the table set up by Ingrid and Pat Inman, they own Inman’s Berry Patch, turn plenty of heads.
Tiny loaves of breads made with raspberries or strawberries and lightly frosted sit in tidy rows. Baskets of freshly baked scones await buyers.
The Inmans make all of their baked goods — a job that Ingrid said takes a couple of days or longer.
Cranberry-orange scones, lemon-poppy seed scones, almond-coconut scones and huckleberry and white chocolate scones make the choice hard for some. Customers look them over carefully. Brows furrow. But there is no hesitation to open a wallet even as the deliberation continues.
And who can resist the butter, flour, cream and berries fashioned into these pie-shaped wedges that the Inmans have been offering for 10 years? Nearby sit muffins made of carrot, apple and pineapple that, Ingrid said, are all natural ingredients with very little sugar.
Kylie Shaw and her fiancé, Nathan Carr, are looking over the selection, and Kylie settles on one of those little loaves of raspberry swirl. The choice wasn’t too hard for her, she said. She loves berries.
The couple recently moved to Helena from Illinois to be closer to Kylie’s grandparents whom she used to visit each summer as a little girl.
“My grandma likes stuff like this too, the sweet breads, so I’ll share it with her at her anniversary today,” she said, adding that her grandparents have been married 45 years.
This is also a day to look for plants and seeds, and that’s a part of why Carol Clifford is at the market. While seed potatoes and plants to get the garden started are high on her list, she is open to other of what vendors had brought.
“Whatever looks good,” she said of her shopping plans.
She is among those who come to it each year and has been doing so for several years.
“We come almost every week when it’s in season,” Clifford said.
The market, she explained, is a great place to see friends and chat.
“It’s a very social gathering and a great place to run into people,” she said.
Nearby, Jarrod Soll had a bag with bread for tomorrow’s breakfast and some of the roasted nuts that were on sale at the Farmers Market too. Now he was shopping for Charlie and Angel, his two shih tzu dogs that waited for him at home.
Barb Leake of Montana Barkery filled up a paper bag with some of her baked dog biscuits for Soll to take home.
His choice is the cheese dog biscuits, he said, adding that his dogs are picky when it comes to dog food and they like these biscuits.
“I spoil them, trust me,” he said. “And these are really good.”
Soll is among the reasons Leake said she’s been busy. Her all-natural dog biscuits and treats are popular, with many of those at the market having brought their dogs with them.
Seth Smith stands and watches the crowd. This is his job. Smith is the crossing guard at an intersection along Fuller Avenue.
The crowd, he said, is pretty typical. Traffic is too.
He stands in the intersection with a hand-stenciled red stop sign atop a wooden pole and holds the traffic at bay, waving to shoppers to signal them it’s safe to cross the street.
Traffic, he explained, is “starting to get used to me.”
“It’s starting to get warm so there’s going to be a lot of people today,” he said, returning to his duty. A woman, crossing the street turns to acknowledge his work with a thank you.
Katie Literski is walking with Noah, he’s 7 months old, in the stroller while her husband, Brian, has their goldendoodle dog, Dudley.
Brian stops so Dudley and a beagle can exchange sniffs. Tails wag slowly.
“We love the Farmers Market,” Katie said.
On this day, they’re out to take a stroll, Brian added.
“It’s a good way for the family to get out and enjoy the day,” he said.
“I think the Farmers Market is a big part of our lives. We’re down here a lot, for the social aspect,” Katie said.
“It just kind of seems like everyone’s down here. We’ll end up going out to breakfast,” she said of what often happens when encountering friends as they walk along.
While the market has opened in less than ideal weather in past years, the day is everything those who go to market could hope for.
“It’s supposed to be 73 today. It’s just too nice to pass up,” Katie said.
And with that, they join the flow of the people around them, folks who have come for a Saturday morning of shopping and socializing.
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