A return of a local delight: The Dane County Farmers Market

Hi everyone,

For the first time since November 2019, two Saturdays ago on June 19, 2021, the Dane County Farmers Market returned to its home on the Capitol Square here in Madison. We couldn’t be more excited.

Sure, it operated a drive-through market during the 2020 growing season. We got the usual fresh, local produce but without much interaction with the vendors or the joy of being on the Square. This spring the market opened with a limited number of vendors at the Expo Grounds that allowed shoppers to walk up to a booth to make purchases. This had more of the “feel” of the regular market but it still wasn’t the same.

For us, and I’m speculating for many other regulars, it’s the feel, the ambiance, and the familiarity that attracts us to plod around the Capitol Square every Saturday morning from April to November. This Farmers Market is one of the things that attracted us to Madison and keeps us here, despite having our eye on moving closer to our families as we grow older.

The Dane County Farmers began in 1972 by then Mayor Bill Dyke as a way to connect city folks with their country cousins. Over the intervening forty-nine years, it has grown to be the largest producer-only farmers market in the United States. It’s also rated as one of the most popular markets in the country. Currently, about 140 vendors show up very early Saturday morning. They set up their booths around the Square to be ready when the market opens at 6:15 AM.

Throughout the growing year, visitors will see the type of vendors change as the seasons change. In the spring, there are a lot of sellers hawking garden and bedding plants. Soon comes the early produce, such as spinach and asparagus. By early to mid-June we see a flood of the many types and varieties of produce that vendors grow and sell at the market. In August, there’s an abundance of sweet corn and beginning September the fall fruits and vegetables such as mums, cabbage, potatoes, squash, and pumpkin. Every week there are the baked goods, popcorn, honey, maple syrup, cheese, and meat vendors. All this is raised or made, and sold by Wisconsin only growers.

On June 19th, it was amazing to us that we took the same route, parked in the same lot, and entered the market on the same corner as we have for years. Who said our memory was lousy?!! Here’s a few photos to document our approach to the market.

On this opening day, the crowds was heavy. Lots of people were as excited as we were. The market managers expected a smaller than usual number of visitors due to the ongoing pandemic but in reality it far exceeded their expectations. Here are a few photos of the crowds as we made our way around the Capitol Square. For those of you that want to avoid crowds, come early. We usually try to arrive between 7:30 and 8:00. This Saturday we didn’t get there until about 8:30 and it was already crowded. But it was pleasant and manageable just the same. You’ll note that foot traffic around the Square goes in one direction, counterclockwise. There are no signs to let new market visitors know which way the traffic flows. It just happens, an unwritten custom. I should point out that vehicle traffic around the Capitol Square is one-way, counterclockwise!

As we casually strolled through the market, we saw many familiar vendors from previous years. Below is a photo of the booth of a popular honey product vendor. In addition to many sizes, varieties, and flavors of honey, they sell honey combs, beeswax candles, and other associated products.

The cheese vendors that offer samples are always busy. Wisconsin produces over six-hundred types of cheese and Wisconsinites consume a lot of cheese. Several cheese makers offer many flavors of cheese curds, those fresh, squeaky nuggets that are oh, oh so tasty!

My Traveling Partner likes to check out the plant vendors looking for bargains or another interesting plants to add to her flower beds.

One of my favorite foods is popcorn. This popcorn vendor offers samples, bagged popcorn in many flavors, and even the kernels to pop your own. They do a great business on Saturday mornings.

If I were a betting man, I’d place a five-dollar bet that the Stella’s Bakery booth is the most popular on the Square. There are always people standing in line to buy their tasty hot and spicy cheese bread or another delicious pastry.

Stella customers quickly devour their purchases, taking them to sit in the shade on the Capitol lawn or on the concourses at located on each corner of the Square.

Others perch on one of the many benches located around the Square.

In the center of it all stands the Wisconsin State Capitol Building. As we walk around the Square, we catch glimpses of the Capitol from all angles. It’s been a year and a half since we’ve marched the tree-lined promenade. It was good to see our old friend again.

On three of the four corners of the Capitol Square, gardeners plant and tend flowers to add interest and beauty to the stately grounds. Here’s a photo of a field of asters I used to frame the Capitol.

Reflections of the Capitol Dome on the many glass buildings that surround the Square also attract my attention.

The Capitol is located at the head of State Street. This several block street runs between the Capitol and the University of Wisconsin campus. It’s popular with students and the public with it’s many restaurants, shops, and performing arts venues. On Saturday mornings, the block closest to the Capitol is blocked off to vehicle traffic. This allows street vendors selling art work and novelties to market customers.

Again, we are delighted that the Farmers Market has returned to the Capitol Square. For all of 2020 and two months of 2021, our Saturday mornings were lacking or at least not the same without our weekly trip to downtown Madison. Glad it’s back and so are we!

Until next week,