In Search of Market Excellence: The Dane County (WI) Farmers Market, Part 1

The Dane County Farmers Market in Madison, Wisconsin is known as the largest producer-only farmers market in the United States. To me, it’s like a Farmers Market Holy Grail. Indeed, I planned a road trip with the intent of standing upon this Shrine to Local Foods. I did visit and was awed and energized about the entire “eating local” phenomenon. Before I describe the market, however, let’s talk about what is meant by being a “producer only” market.


As I discussed in a previous post, not all vendors at a farmers market are necessarily growers or producers. Unfortunately, it’s not unheard of to have vendors selling goods they bought at a wholesaler—or even a local supermarket—foisting a jacked-up price onto an unsuspecting (and likely well meaning) public for profit. Many, if not most, of us walk into a market believing that we are helping small family farms or other local producers. We consciously make the effort to go to the market and perhaps even pay a little more in order to ensure that there is some sort of viable local food system in our communities. The produce imposters—and that’s what they are—prey on that goodwill.1 Supporting local producers is important to many of us—thankfully, there is no need to worry or be suspicious at the Dane County Farmers Market! If you or your family didn’t grow it or make it, you aren’t selling it there.

I made my first visit the Dane County Farmers Market (henceforth referred to as “DCFM”) on a picture-perfect summer day (yes, I get that this is such a cliché, but it really WAS perfect—sunny, warm-but-not-hot, low humidity). The DCFM is located on Capitol Square (remember from your elementary school geography that Madison is the capital of Wisconsin). It opens early—6:00—though it isn’t really crowded until around 9:00-ish.

Early morning at the Capitol with vendors setting up.
I got there early and enjoyed watching vendors set up, chatting with the market staff, and just soaking up the local foods goodness of the place. Unfortunately, I was at the beginning of my road trip, so any souvenirs were going to have to be non-perishables. Fortunately, I was able to get some stuff to bring back to Indiana anyway.



Well, a great piece of advice I heard from my dear friend Amy was to shop on an empty stomach—no eating breakfast beforehand. Good thing I listened to her, because the DCFM was the Free Sample Center of the Universe. Cheese curds—in many flavors, from many vendors—were ubiquitous. In fact, I’d had my first cheese curd here at the market. Okay, that makes sense. I mean, this IS Wisconsin, a state with football fans known as Cheese Heads. But there was more! Jerky from grassfed, pastured beef, cherries from Door County, pickles and jams, venison sausage, honeys and maple syrups, cinnamon buns, cookies, bread cheese, salad dressings—a cornucopia of deliciousness! There was a riot of colorful produce, gorgeous flowers, and, more importantly, a HUMAN diversity. Honestly, it felt like home to me.

So, let me share with you some of the sights of the DCFM! Peruse the pictures and take a virtual trip to the DCFM–maybe these will get you thinking about a face-to-face visit some day!








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