After less than 30 minutes of shopping, Jon Ille had a bag filled with just-picked cucumbers, tomatoes, lettuce, squash and green beans.
Total price: $6.
He hit pay dirt at the Healthy By Design Gardeners’ Market, now in its second year. The market, nearly double the size of last year’s event, is held each Thursday evening outside the offices of RiverStone Health, 123 S. 27th St.
The 38-year-old Hardin man ventured into town to explore what the market had to offer.
“We’re not impressed with the farmer’s market in downtown Billings,” he said. “It’s more expensive, and there aren’t as many local vendors.”
His companion, Liz Von Essen, 42, also of Hardin, said she enjoyed the convenience of strolling through the market after work. Von Essen said she has discovered that if she’s not at the farmer’s market promptly at 8 a.m. on Saturdays, she often misses out.
The couple continued shopping, snatching up fresh dill and green peppers.
“We were at the grocery store and nothing looked good,” Von Essen said. “Certainly nothing like this.”
The Gardener’s Market on the city’s South Side is the brainchild of Healthy By Design, a Yellowstone County initiative formed by the Alliance of Billings Clinic, RiverStone Health and St. Vincent Healthcare.
The goal is to make healthy choices easy.
Its Plan to Improve the Communities Health, PITCH, includes programs, policy initiatives, and advocacy efforts focused on numerous issues, including available and affordable nutritious food.
In assessing the health needs of Yellowstone County, Healthy By Design Coalition members recognized the need for affordable, fresh and local produce, said Katie Kirkpatrick, a registered dietitian with RiverStone Health. Many diabetic patients and clients in the community voiced their concerns that fresh produce is too expensive on a limited budget. As a result, only 40.6 percent of Yellowstone County adults consume the recommended five-plus servings of fruits and vegetables each day.
Healthy By Design committee members also realized that many people in the community who have large gardens with extra produce were willing to sell it or give it away.
Vendors are traveling to set up shop at the Gardeners’ Market from as close as in town to as far away as Huntley, Shepherd and Absarokee.
“It has turned out to be a valuable resource for anyone who needs or wants fresh, local produce, as well as a great opportunity for local entrepreneurs,” Kirkpatrick said.
Master gardeners are on hand each week with how-to tips. Up-and-coming gardeners also are on hand to share their wares and gardening tips.
This is T. J. Wierenga’s second year at the Gardeners’ Market, where she showcased an array of kale, Swiss chard, dill, purple cabbage, rattail radishes, purslane and more.
“It’s really more about building the community,” Wierenga said. “We are thrilled to participate in it.”
The Billings mother was flanked by her two children, Casey, 5, and Colton, 6. Each has his or her own garden plot to nurture and weed.
Casey was quick to offer her gardening advice: “You make a wide hole, put the seed in and bury the hole up. Then, you wait a long time.”
“And,” Colton chimed in, “make sure there’s no bugs. Sometimes big grasshoppers get in our kale.”
Although the market was originally intended to target people who have diabetes or are at risk for the disease and other chronic diseases, the market it open to anyone in the community.