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Local Food Matters

by Mary Rosewood

Along with more than 3,000 other happy people, I enjoyed the opening day at the Livingston Farmers Market under a hot almost-summer sun and with live music at the Miles Park Band Shell.

More than 80 vendors shared their spectacular wares, ranging from enticing spring produce and other delightful edibles to hand lotion and ceramic wildflowers. Food trucks offered a variety of ready-made meals to round out snacks of ice cream, baked goods, and freshly squeezed lemonade. There’s so much available this year that it’s impossible to list it all here.

When you visit this market, it becomes obvious why it’s been voted best farmers market in Montana for the past two years, on track to win again for a three-year streak.

One reason for the top billing is market manager Shannan Mascari. When she came on as manager in 2019, Shannan said the market was “very sparse, not many vendors. Now we’ve won the America’s Farmers Market Celebration award in Montana, and it’s really blown up the past couple of years. I’ve had to stop taking applications. They wanted me to grow the market, and I’ve certainly done it.”

When another person who had been hired to manage the market backed out at the last minute, Shannan stepped up. She’d been hired by Western Sustainability Exchange for another position, but she thought, “Well, I’ve got a big family, I’ve thrown lots of parties at my house, how hard can it be to manage a market? I’ve always loved the market and always attended, so I just jumped in and started figuring it out.”

Shannan said she’s most proud of the food access programs she’s helped put in place. “I’ve made some great partnerships.”

The Livingston market is the only one in the area that offers the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Double SNAP Dollars for low-income families. “This makes fresh local food available to everyone,” Shannan said. “It’s another way we try to help the community, and I wouldn’t be able to do that without the Livingston Food Resource Center.”

The Food Resource Center also supports the market with its Healthy Families Token Program.

Expedition Church lends a hand with the market’s Senior Farmers Market Nutritional Program, which provides vouchers for fresh produce. “For seniors who don’t have their own proxy, we can offer to have someone do their shopping for them, who will then deliver it to them when they can’t make it to the market,” Shannan explained.

The Zero Waste Station in the middle of the market, set up in collaboration with the Park County Environmental Council, is another significant achievement.

All prepared-food vendors are required to use compostable BPI-certified take-out ware. When customers go to the way station with their trash, “they learn about what’s compostable, what’s recyclable, and what’s actually trash. Most of our waste is compostable.” Happy Trash Can Compost in Bozeman donates a portion of their service to pick up waste to compost. “We’ve reduced our waste by at least 85 percent,” Shannan said.

One thing I especially love about the Livingston Farmers Market is the abundance of young vendors. Kids pay $5 for a booth and are always welcome. Although Shannan will try to fit in every young person who shows up, she recommends they sign up in advance to be sure of getting a space.

Kids can get a free booth on July 12th, Kids Day. There will also be lots of fun things to do, including a scavenger hunt and a milking demonstration featuring Milkshake the cow. (Milkshake will also make an appearance on Eat Local Day, August 14th.)

The Livingston Farmers Market is a nonprofit program run by Western Sustainability Exchange (WSE). Donations made to WSE directly or through the community fund-raiser Give a Hoot help support the market. You can make a direct donation to the market at the headquarters booth or on the WSE website by designating “farmers market.”

Vendor fees and items bought at the headquarters booth at the market don’t cover all the expenses. For example, the bands that play each week get $100 plus tips from market goers.

“There’s a lot of money that goes into putting this market on and keeping it together,” Shannan said. “I’m always in the red. I don’t know how I’m always in the red, but I am. People think, oh they can just get a grant for that, but there aren’t a lot of grants to support a

market, unless it’s new or doing something new. I can’t add anything, I don’t have the capacity.”

Shannan added, “I’m generally a very happy, easy-going person. I have a lot of vendors who come in and say they really enjoy the energy of the market.”

To help maintain this energy, Shannan makes one request, “Please leave your furry family members

at home.”

The reason for that, she explained, is that “there are too many people at the market, along with lots of food. We look forward to another busy summer, and we just don’t need dogs at the market. Also, I don’t think dogs like being around that many people.”

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