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The Leeward Tree Farm booth displayed baskets of peppers, potatoes and green beans among its vegetable array Saturday morning at the Natrona County Master Gardeners Farmers’ Market.

Kylie Smidt had arrived with a pickup full of vegetables from the west Casper farm early Saturday morning, she said. By mid-morning, the truck was empty and the stock on the table dwindled.

She’ll help pick more vegetables next week to join the market vendors who sell produce, meat, eggs, plants, jam and other goods.

The market runs 7:30 a.m. to 12 p.m. Saturdays through noon outside the Agricultural Resource Learning Center near the local fairgrounds.

This is the 37th year for the market, where on Saturday about 40 booths offered a wide variety of food to eat or prepare and even plants for gardens, said Ale Newsome, co-chair of the Natrona County Master Gardeners’ farmers’ market committee. The market is a place for visitors to learn about the vendor’s processes and find gardening advice at the Master Gardeners booth.

The market gives a space for growers of all sizes to showcase their products.

“We want to be a space where people can come and establish relationships within the community,” Newsome explained.

Many of the vendors at the Natrona County Master Gardeners Farmers’ Market are locals who produce from the food from the beginning of the process, Newsome said.

“They either grow the produce and bring it, or they take care of the animals and they come and sell the meat, the sausage. So I’m encouraged by the kind of vendors that are young and that they are invested in growing in Wyoming and ranching in Wyoming.”

Some have sold at the market for many years.

Smidt started helping her family grow and sell at the market when she was 8 years old. The Leeward Tree Farm has grown in the 22 years since, she said.

She’s also seen the market grow.

“It seems to get bigger every year. And there’s a lot more vendors and variety, and I’ve noticed more local people. I really am impressed with it this year. Every year it gets a little better.”

Newer businesses have also grown, like the Not Your Mama’s Salsa booth. Jim Casteel at the market Saturday offered samples from the nine variety of salsa he makes with tomatoes and peppers from local farmers and his own garden.

They range from “Sissy Lala” to “No Mercy,” he said. He smokes the peppers for hours to create his “Prairie Fire” salsa, and he even offers a mango salsa. An injury ended his career in building bridges, roofing and concrete, so a friend suggested he take the salsa he made for his friends to the farmers market. He makes about 500 to 800 jars a week.

“I’ve been doing it for three and half years. It just keeps getting bigger and bigger.”

Sunshine Schultz at the Prairie Wind Yaks booth invited people to feel soft fiber combed from the downy undercoat of grass-fed yaks she and her husband raise west of Casper. They’ll eventually sell yarn made from the fiber.

But next week, they plan to bring halter-trained yearlings to the market, she said.

The family tried yak when her father-in-law needed a heart-healthy red meat.

They’d raised pigs, but yaks weren’t in her plans.

“And I took one bite of a yak steak and I was like, ‘So we’re raising yaks.’”

Jay Bliss sold sausage and jars of preserves he makes from largely locally-grown fruit Saturday at his Jay’s Livestock booth. He raises the pigs and lambs at his property near Bessemer Bend and plans to offer lamb chops in the coming weeks, he said.

People want the connection farmers markets offer to talk directly with the producers, he added.

“Part of the reason that farmers markets are so successful is when you have somebody that has truly home-raised that product, they’re there to answer the questions,” he said. “People want that connection where they can ask you, ‘Is this local, how did you raise this, where was it at what age was it? All those questions that you normally you wouldn’t associate with traditional food.”

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Star-Tribune reporter Elysia Conner covers arts, culture and the Casper community.

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