A retired mason just can't stop laying foundations. Now, instead of bricks, he's building his community with food. Billy Izzard, founder of the Milltown Garden Patch, found himself on a bridge surrounded by area residents Sunday, May 20. He'd created something from nothing again: the Milltown Bridge Market. "It's about the town, our town, and trying to create a sustainable economy," Izzard explained.
Dozens of neighbors showed up from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on the sun-soaked pedestrian bridge spanning the Blackfoot River, just east of Highway 200. Izzard's idea was to create an extension of his volunteer-run Garden Patch while offering space for local farmers and crafters. He hesitated to bring competition to Missoula's markets, but co-founder and market veteran Tom Robinson helped guide him from skeptic to believer. Robinson was slinging succulents, cacti and starters at the south end of the bridge, excited for the new venue as an addition to his 20-year Saturday spot at Missoula's X's.
On the north end, the young Grogan family had the same idea. The Missoula Valley farmers are also Saturday market regulars, offering typical early season fare such as bok choy, spring greens, radishes and tomato starts. They say they're thrilled to have a second weekly opportunity to sell and support other vendors. "It's unfortunate to see the small towns picking up last, but it's good they're catching on," Michael Grogan said.
The Garden Patch had only an info booth its first week, after some tomatoes got frosty, but Izzard says he expects to pile up the produce soon. Across the highway and just down the road lies a beautiful fenced garden housing more vegetables and fruits than you can name in a breath. The stretch of land was home to knapweed and rocks just three years ago. Last year, the nonprofit donated over 1,500 pounds of produce to the Food Bank, locals in need, schools and churches.
Though just seven vendors set up the first week, Izzard is confident the weekly market will grow into the room it has. It's the only food source in town beside the Town Pump, so there's a good chance he's right.
"It's just doing something for the community," Izzard said to a thankful customer. "Change the way people see Milltown."