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Farmers market gets a winter home

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It's a brisk Saturday morning just before Halloween and bundled-up locals are milling around the Ceretana Granary on Missoula's Westside. They snack on huckleberry scones while loading up on cabbage, apples and miniature pumpkins. It's warm inside the Granary, a bright space that usually serves as artist studios. Today it's hosting Missoula's first-ever Heirloom Winter Marketplace. Missoula resident Susan Janousek pronounces the indoor farmer's market "a dream come true...It gives me goose bumps, I love it so much."

During the summer, the Missoula's Farmers Market connects people who till the soil with those who appreciate homegrown goods. Ties forged at the market sustain the community socially and economically, while the food helps to keep Missoulians healthy. But all of that ended every year in October, when the summer market shuttered. The world shrank when the summer ended, Janousek says.

Not anymore.

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The new Heirloom Winter Marketplace has been a labor of love for longtime Missoula foodie Kristen Lee-Charlson. A mother of four who wants to help residents find locally produced food and one another after the snow flies, Lee-Charlson says she's meeting a need. The new market also serves "to help people realize that just because the growing season is over doesn't mean that we don't still have access to local foods [and] regional foods."

Lee-Charlson, the former editor and publisher of Edible Missoula, started a private, community-based food-buying club, the Heirloom Project, two years ago. She researched methods of area farms, ranches and orchards to determine, for example, which food producers engaged in fair trade practices and which farmed organically. She launched the buying club in her garage. It expanded into her dining room, spilled over into her front yard and then overflowed to the alley outside her Westside home. The Heirloom Project now has more than 100 members, which is "at capacity," she says.

Now, on behalf of Heirloom Project members, Lee-Charlson buys organic products from local and regional family farms and cooperatives that meet her high standards. "You name a product, we probably get it or can get it," she says. "We get everything from sea salt directly from the sea to nuts, oils, grains, legumes, produce, meats, fish and everything in between."

The buying club's popularity, combined with the perennial lament of vendors, social butterflies and foodies alike when the summer market shutters, led Lee-Charlson to launch the Winter Market. It's open Saturdays from 10 a.m. to noon.

Lee-Charlson is pleased that business seems brisk on the indoor market's first day. She's keen to see that the market supports the vendors as well as pleasing customers. She says she loves learning about the relationships that farming families have with the land. "There's a story that goes behind every one of those items," she says.

One doesn't have to look far inside the Ceretana for a story on this Saturday morning. At the Granary's south end, Missoula farmer Cua Grogan stands next to a white table piled high with greens, broccoli and cabbage. She grew up tilling and planting seeds in her family's Missoula veggie plot, Grogan explains. Two and a half decades later, she runs Grogan's Harvest with her husband, Kyle. If not for the Winter Marketplace, Cua says, the summer's leftovers would likely be tilled and fed to her chickens: "We still have so much stuff."

A few feet from the Grogans, Sam and Jake Wustner from Wustner Brothers Honey talk about the 150 beehives they tend in Miller Creek and the Nine Mile Valley. Their honey isn't heated before it's packaged like typical grocery-store fare, Sam says, explaining that their honey retains natural antioxidants, enzymes, amino acids, vitamins and minerals that mass-produced honey loses during the pasteurization process. Like the Grogans, the Wustner brothers were excited to learn their selling season could continue despite falling temperatures. "Jake actually yelled out in excitement," Sam says.

Lee-Charlson says she hopes to keep the Winter Market going through spring, as Missoulians keep building relationships with the people who grow their food.

"It's a grassroots movement," she says. "It's neighbor connecting with neighbor, consumer with consumer, and really just a place for the community to connect."

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