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In the market for fresh produce?

The Healthy By Design Gardeners’ Market will kick off its season Thursday at South Park. The market, open from 4:40 to 6:30 p.m., will run weekly through Oct. 4.

It’s the eighth season for the market, and the fifth year it has partnered with Billings Parks and Recreation. That partnership allowed the market to move to South Park and more into the heart of the South Side neighborhood, said Maia Dickerson, market manager.

The Healthy By Design Coalition, a partnership between RiverStone Health, Billings Clinic and St. Vincent Healthcare, initially created the gardeners’ market to make fresh food more available and affordable, Dickerson said.

“The USDA designated the South Side a food desert because there isn’t a full-service grocery store within one mile of the neighborhood,” she said. “When IGA closed in 2013, that created a gap in food access.”

The market includes local produce, craft vendors and other food items such as meat and eggs, jams, jellies, artisan breads and cookies.

“Because the tagline of Healthy By Design is ‘make healthy choices the easy way,’ we do ask vendors to make the baked goods as healthy as possible,” Dickerson said.

The market doesn’t charge a fee to vendors, which helps keep prices low. Anything the vendors make they get to keep, and last year’s vendors made a little over $15,000 that went back into the community.

The variety of produce at the market depends on the time of year, and at the beginning there's less variety than later in the season. Buyers might see more greens at the start of the market, she said, loads of tomatoes, peppers and corn in August and lots of other choices in-between.

In addition to providing produce at a lower price, the market also permits people to pay with their SNAP cards. And the market will match up to $10 per market for SNAP recipients, so customers can buy more.

A lot of the vendors are also trained to take WIC Farm Direct checks, Dickerson said. So people can “come without cash on hand and there’s a mechanism for them to purchase things.”

The Healthy By Design Gardeners’ Market features more than just food.

“Every week there’s at least one special activity,” she said.

On the first Thursday of the month visitors will be entertained by live music. Singer/musician Ed Kemmick will kick off the first market.

Power of Produce activities take place the second Thursday, during which children get to sample and learn about produce. They also take part in activities such as making salsa, veggie prints and Swiss chard wraps, and get $2 vouchers to spend at the market.

“Last year we started a partnership with the library,” Dickerson said.

The Billings Public Library and the Library Foundation’s First Chapter Society host “Reading Under the Trees,” an all-ages story time and activity, starting at 5 p.m. the third Thursday of the month. This year that will include stops by the new Pedal-Powered Library that brings books by bicycle.

The fourth Thursday of the month features Get Moving at the Market, something else new this year, said Dickerson.

“Customers can get punch cards to fill up doing activities or using active transportation, taking the bus, walking or riding their bike to market, as well as a couple pop-up activities, to earn prizes,” she said.

Yellowstone County Master Gardeners are also on hand to answer gardening questions each week. And in July and September, the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program experts offer ways that people on a limited budget can use fresh produce in healthy meals.

The market is dependent on the weather, obviously, but Dickerson said organizers try to stay open as long as the vendors and customers are around “because we know people rely on it for fresh fruits and vegetables.”

For information about the Healthy By Design Gardeners’ Market, including the full schedule of activities and events, visit the website at www.hbdyc.org/market.

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General Assignment and Health Care Reporter

General assignment and healthcare reporter at The Billings Gazette.