Harvest time: Experience Flathead Valley’s flourishing farm-to-table movement

A pile of pumpkins at Sweet Pickin's PumpkinsBetween the jagged peaks of the Flathead, Swan and Mission ranges on the east and the rolling Salish Mountains on the west lies the Flathead Valley, one of the most fertile agricultural valleys in Montana. As local farmers harvest the fruits, vegetables and grains of their labors, autumn in the valley is a sensory feast — and not just for the palette.

While the cottonwoods and aspen in the valley turn shades of orange and yellow and the tamaracks on the mountainside glimmer in the low sunlight, the Kalispell Farmers Market is just as vibrant with fresh-picked crops of apples, corn, squash, pumpkins, beets, Brussels sprouts and much more. The market is open every Saturday from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. through Oct. 15, on the Flathead Valley Community College campus. Don’t be surprised to see local chefs perusing the aisles for inspiration for their seasonal menus.

In October the place to be in Kalispell is Sweet Pickin’s Pumpkin Patch. In the dreamland of autumn, pick your choice of pumpkin for Grandma’s pumpkin pie recipe or your favorite jack-o-lantern design, but make sure you bring the whole family for an afternoon of pillow jumping (on a giant 50 x 100-foot pillow), barrel car rides, trail mazes and tractor tours. And before you go, indulge in a fresh batch of kettle corn or hand-dipped caramel apples.

As the sun sets on the mountains enjoy the cocktail hour at the Flathead Valley’s microbreweries and wineries. In late September Kalispell Brewing Co., conveniently situated on Main Street next to the artisan shops, galleries and restaurants of downtown Kalispell, breaks the taps on its seasonal favorites. The amber Oktoberfest is slightly sweet and malty, a decoction brewed with imported German ingredients including Munich and Pilsner malts and flavored with Hallertau hops. The owner, brewer Cole Schneider is known to wear lederhosen and listen to Oktoberfest Oompah music while brewing this beer each year. And the brewery’s Fresh Hop by Pop is unveiled for the season as well, brewed with Montana-grown fresh hops from the Glacier Hops Ranch outside Whitefish. The coppery red ale is incredibly aromatic but not overwhelmingly hoppy.

At Kalipsell’s Glacier Sun Winery enjoy tastings of its unique blends featuring Washington grapes and Montana-grown fruit, including apricot and chuckleberry (blending local cherries and huckleberries) dessert wines, or its more traditional white and red selections. Also check out the winery’s Apple Barrel Country Market, featuring its private label canned and pickled goods — from Hot Asparagus Bullets to Cherry Sweet Fire Bread & Butter Pickles & Peppers.

An autumn day in Kalispell is best culminated at one of the small city’s local eateries, including Blue Canyon Kitchen, When in Rome Pizza and Hop’s Downtown Grill. This is farm-to-table at its best.

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