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Spirits around Missoula are lifting, and here’s why: Blue skies. Birds in trees. Temperatures in the 30s and soon, 40s.

A long winter is slowly melting away.

We’re ready. Next Wednesday is the first day of spring and seed packets and plants are already in local stores. Just thinking about gardens makes the mouth water for a big, crunchy, fresh salad after a winter of stews and heavy soups, delicious though they are.

Until the summer crop of veggies is up, don’t forget to salute the winter warriors at the Missoula Valley Winter Market. These vendors have offered locally grown fresh produce — microgreens, carrots, potatoes, cabbage, onions, beets, kale, fresh eggs, garlic and much more — all winter long, bringing local flavor to some pretty dreary days. Other vendors sell fresh breads, jams, honey, herbs and artwork, so it’s a nice way to spend an hour or more at the start of the weekend.

The market is still going strong each Saturday, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., at the Missoula Senior Center, 705 S. Higgins Ave. If you haven’t gone yet this year, take the time to stop in before it ends on April 20.

Don’t worry about eating breakfast first because the market offers a place to sit and lots of breakfast choices, from coffee to pastries to Missoula gourmet waffles. There’s live music, too.

Here are just a few other food-centered or food-linked events to celebrate Missoula or Montana (or both) in the next few months as spring blooms:

Salute a saint: Missoula’s St. Patrick’s Day parade is this Saturday, March 16. It starts at noon along Higgins Avenue. Go early, grab breakfast at your favorite downtown or Hip Strip eatery (or try a new one), then bundle up to enjoy the floats, music and leprechauns that mark this green-garb weekend. Of course, local pubs, distilleries and breweries have their own celebrations for St. Paddy’s weekend.

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Travel beyond Missoula: The International Festival at the University of Montana is this Sunday, March 17. It celebrates international studies and students, and includes cultural, artistic and informational displays, along with ethnic food. Hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the University Center; cost is $5 per person, $15 for families.

Bite into Bigfork: This year’s Taste of Bigfork event is Sunday, April 28, from 2-5 p.m. and includes wine, music and food from Bigfork restaurants. It’s a fundraiser for Habitat for Humanity of Flathead Valley, Friends of Bigfork Fire Department and the Bigfork Area Chamber of Commerce.

Participants walk from venue to venue along Bigfork’s Electric Avenue, enjoying specialty foods prepared by area restaurants. The evening ends with an auction for items donated by Bigfork area merchants at 5:30 p.m. at the Garden Bar & Grill.

Tickets for the Taste of Bigfork are $40 per person and available at Electric Avenue Gifts and the Bigfork Area Chamber office. Call (406) 837-5888 for more information.

Welcome summer: Opening day for Missoula’s farmers markets is Saturday, May 4, at both the North Higgins market near the XXXX's, and the Clark Fork Market, under the Higgins Avenue bridge.

Last year, the Clark Fork market expanded from 100 to 130 vendors, and it’ll stay about the same for 2019, said Market Manager Franco Salazar. Newcomers for the market this year include Front Street Fungi Gourmet Mushrooms and an artisan who makes gourmet toast with various toppings.

Belly up to brews: Missoula’s Garden City Brewfest is dubbed “the official kickoff to the warm-weather season,” and it’s true, which is why Caras Park is always packed for this event, which features regional beer, ciders and wines. This year’s Brewfest is Saturday, May 4, from noon to 8 p.m. For $15, you’ll get one 7-ounce commemorative glass and three beer tokens; additional tokens are 2 for $3.

Take a drive for taste: Feast Whitefish is a weeklong event (May 11-18) that includes a Distiller’s Fest, Restaurant Week, a grand gala, and, on Saturday, May 18, a Burger Battle, when local eateries put forth their best burger and vie for votes. The chef lineup and other details of Feast Whitefish are still being settled, and tickets for events go on sale in April. Keep tabs on the event at feastwhitefish.com.

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Mea Andrews was a Missoulian reporter and editor for 27 years, covering food, art and Missoula County growth and development before leaving the paper. Now retired, she likes occasional road trips to Montana getaways.

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