Face to Face: Kirsten Hands of the Clark Fork Market in Missoula

One of Missoula’s biggest Saturday morning markets will rely on digital orders this year as it works to get produce to customers and put money in the pockets of its vendors.

Kirsten Hands, manager of the Clark Fork Market, said a number of practices have been established with safety in mind. That includes a barrier around the market with a single entry, one-way foot traffic and markers designating six-foot distances.

“We’re also going to require all our customers to wear masks and all our vendors will be wearing masks as well,” said Hands. “When we initially start up on May 23, we’re only going to have ag producers in the market. That will reduce us down to about 60 vendors.”

Earlier this month, the City-County Health Department permitted Missoula’s local markets to open, but with sweeping changes, including the absence of musicians and prepared food.

While the festive atmosphere may be missing, vendors will still sell their goods. Initially, those will be restricted to fruits, vegetables, meat, cheese and eggs. And the market will lean on its new online platform to fill orders.

“The market will open at 1 a.m. on Monday and it stays open until 1 p.m. on Thursday,” said Hands. “During that time period, Customers can go onto the site and chose the products they want to purchase. When the market is shut down on Thursday afternoon, it allows the vendors to get in and see what’s been purchased from them and get those products together.”

The vendors will the drop those items off with market staff on Saturday morning.

“We will work with putting all the groceries together,” said Hands. “I’ll email all the customers either Thursday or Friday and let them know what time frame they have to come pick things up. That way we can control traffic and not get too many people at once.”

As the season allows – and as the Health Department adjusts its restrictions – Hands believes other items will slowly return to the market.

“We will start integrating some of those products back into the market when the Health Department allows,” she said. “One of the things that is noticeably missing is our prepared food vendors. We won’t have those vendors down at the market.”