This week I’m taking you to the opening weekend of the Dane County Farmers’ Market. This year marks the fiftieth season of this famous and well attended market. Join me as we make the walk around the Wisconsin State Capitol Square on a sunny but chilly Saturday morning in April. The temperature was a cool 36° F (2.2° C) as we made the drive to downtown Madison. We’ve been coming to the market almost every Saturday since we moved here thirty-five years ago in 1987. It’s one of the many reasons we stayed Madison, even now it would be hard to leave this unique Madison thing to do on a Saturday.
After parking in the nearby State Street Capitol Parking Garage, it’s where we always park as creatures of habit, we walked the one block to the Capitol Square. We stopped for a minute or so to soak up the atmosphere, excited to make the counter-clockwise stroll around the Capitol. To our surprise there was a good crowd out for the first market of the year. Most folks were clad in heavy jackets, head gear, and gloves to keep warm against the chilly temp and slight breeze blowing off Lakes Mendota and Monona.
The Dane County Farmers’ Market is the largest producer-only market in the United States. It started out in 1972 with a few farmers and quickly grew to encompass the whole Capitol Square. On any given Saturday from mid-April to early November, there are between 150 and 170 vendors set up, ready to sell by 6:15 AM. The market is officially open until 1:45 PM but vendors will leave early if crowds are sparse or they sell out their products.
It’s been a cool, wet, late spring here in southern Wisconsin. There were very few plant vendors at this market, one offered bare root tree stock and the one in the photo below had a selection of early, hardy perennials.
There was one vendor with some beautiful ripe tomatoes grown in a greenhouse. We did see several cheese vendors including the one below that offered samples, they were prohibited the past two years.
This cheese vendor had a long line of tasters filing past their selection of cheeses warmed on a griddle.
Bakery products are very popular every Saturday during the market season. Lots of patrons will purchase a cookie, scone, sticky bun, hand pie, or donut then stop at one of the three or four coffee shops across from the Capitol to wash the goodie down. Like us, they find a place to sit on the stone walls leading to the entrances to the Capitol or when it’s warmer, on the grass. Then the people watch commences, one of my favorite activities at the market.
The Capitol Building itself is such a part of the market. Visitors will enter the building to use the restrooms then stay for a look around at the ornate dome or the exhibits on display. I must have thousands of photos of the Capitol in my archives but new ones appear every year, I can’t help it. One of these days I might get a real keeper!
On the north side of the Capitol Square, the reflection in the office building is another popular photo opportunity.
I always find this glass building to be intriguing. It’s another feature that keeps on drawing the interest of passersby.
There are always a number of meat vendors at the market. The Curious Farmer always seems to be busy selling grass finished beef and pasture raised pork, just like the old days. Here’s link to their website, curiousfarmer.com.
The very last vendor on our walk around the Square is Stella’s Bakery. They are famous for their hot and spicy cheese bread. Words to describe this bread are hard to find. A few might be delicious, warm, zippy in a good way, mouth-watering, so aromatic it makes one pull the wallet out of their pocket, and stand in line to score that first, chewy bite. Stella’s website has a cool video that will make you want to place an online order!
In the coming weeks, we will see vendors with bedding plants, hanging baskets, asparagus, spinach, and other early crops. By the end of June, the market will be flush with produce such as cucumbers, carrots, lettuce, tomatoes, peas, green beans, zucchini, peppers, broccoli, cauliflower, and many more types of produce. There will be plenty of fresh flowers and herbs. Late summer and fall will bring potatoes, beets, cabbage, parsnips, pumpkins and apples. There is always something interesting and new each year. Check it out at Dane County Farmers’ Market.
After enjoying the Dane County Farmers’ Market, we make a stop at the Westside Community Market on University Avenue. This is a smaller market however parking is easy and free!
Some of the vendors that sell at the Capitol Square also have a booth at this market too, like Stella’s. It’s for those who don’t like driving downtown and fighting the large crowds.
Our favorite beef vendor is at this market. Check out Highland Springs Farm, take from me it’s a quality product. Like the market around the Capitol, many of the usual vendors didn’t show up the first week of the market. There will be more every week.
This honey vendor has been coming to the Westside Market for many years. He’s always chatting up the patrons, inviting them to taste the many flavors of honey he offers. Always nice to see him in the spring.
For more on the Westside Market, click here.
In the past, I’ve written about our abundance of farmers markets in the Madison area. Click here and here to read two of those posts. That does it for this week, stay tuned next week for an article on our recent visit to Door County, Wisconsin. Another gem of a place.
Until then, happy travels!