The owners of two Kalispell bakeries fear they may set up shop at the Kalispell Farmers’ Market for the last time Sat., Oct. 15, the market’s closing day.
Their fight to keep their market spaces will likely decide the future direction of the 31-year-old Kalispell Farmers’ Market.
Gresko’s Fine Foods and Simply Sweet Baking Co., businesses that have had spaces at the market for two and three years respectively, were found by the market’s board this August to be in violation of a market bylaw requiring that market businesses be home-based.
According to Beverly Medved, the Kalispell Farmers’ Market board president, the board voted to uphold the bylaw at their August meeting.
The violation allows the board to remove Gresko’s and Simply Sweet from the market, Medved says, although the board has not yet done so. She says a final decision on whether to remove the vendors will be made before next year’s market begins in April.
But Beth Secrest, part-owner of Simply Sweet, and Martha and Steve Smith, owners of Gresko’s, believe the board has already made up its mind. They say that when they asked Medved if there was any chance the board would reverse its decision, she told them it was unlikely.
Secrest and the Smiths say the bylaw unfairly targets their businesses.
According to Medved, the intent of the home-based bylaw is to maintain the original purpose of the market. In part, she says, that purpose was to allow local citizens to test their business ideas. Successful ideas would spawn businesses that were no longer home-based, that would then leave the market to make room for others.
But the Gresko’s and Simply Sweet owners point out that other businesses have seen commercial success outside of the Kalispell Farmers’ Market, but are allowed to stay at the market because their business is operated on the same property as their home.
Two examples are Farm to Market Pork and Mountain Lake Fisheries. Farm to Market Pork sells pork products from its own store and to restaurants and grocery stores in the Flathead Valley. Mountain Lake Fisheries, according to its website, does a “thriving retail mail-order business.”
These businesses, Secrest and the Smiths say, have clearly found success outside the Kalispell market.
Part of the problem, according to Secrest and the Smiths, is that it’s difficult for bakeries to be home-based because of a market bylaw requiring that all food sold at the market be produced in a commercial kitchen—a rule common to Montana farmers’ markets. In order to sell at the market, both Secrest and the Smiths had to rent commercial kitchens.
The three business owners agree that the commercial kitchen rule is necessary, as it helps ensure the sanitation of foods sold at the market. But the problem with having both the commercial kitchen rule and the home-based rule is that building an in-home commercial kitchen is costly and impractical.
Both say they would have had to tear out their home kitchens and rebuild in order to accommodate a commercial kitchen, making it more practical to rent a space that already had one, and eventually to buy an off-site commercial kitchen.
Renting, according to Medved, would still qualify them as home-based businesses, although she admits there is no exact definition of “home-based” in the market’s bylaws.
Once the businesses grew and bought their own stores, they were no longer considered home-based, Medved says.
While the commercial kitchen rule is common across Montana, the home-based rule is not. The Bogert Farmers’ Market in Bozeman, the Whitefish Farmers’ Market, the Helena Farmers’ Market, the Great Falls Farmers’ Market, the Clark Fork River Market and the Missoula Farmers’ Market all allow businesses that are not home-based.
Mel Parker, the Missoula market master, predicts the Kalispell Farmers’ Market is “going to run into a lot of problems” with the home-based rule.
“I can see what they’re trying to get at,” he says of the attempt to limit the size of businesses in the market, but he doesn’t think it’s feasible to construct commercial kitchens in private homes.
Secrest and the Smiths say the market itself is no huge financial boon for them, but it gives them a chance to get their name out to new customers, and provides them valuable information by allowing personal interaction with customers.
But Nanci Williams, who runs The Bead Lady stand at the market, says the farmers’ market is an integral part of her summer income. For that reason, she says she wants Gresko’s and Simply Sweet to stay.
“They’re an important part of the market,” Williams says. “They’ve been here long enough to get their own people who come for them.
“I think it’s unfair,” Williams says of the board’s decision. “I don’t quite understand the reasoning. I don’t think that either one of those companies are going to get so big that it undermines the market.”
In the end, both the Smiths and Secrest say they do not want to see other businesses, such as Farm to Market Pork, kicked out of the market, but would like to see the bylaw changed.
Each year, three positions on the board come up for election to three-year terms. After the market closes, the board holds its annual meeting, at which anyone who has operated a stall at the market for more than three days of the season gets to vote on the next year’s board of directors.
The Smiths and Secrest say that their situation may be the catalyst for change on the board, and ultimately of the bylaws.
As Martha Smith says, “They started a process of having people decide what direction we’ll take... It will change the core of the farmers’ market.”
She, Steve and Secrest say they plan to stay involved with that process.