Today’s post is 1500 words, 24 photos, an 8 minute read. Enjoy!
Yesterday, April 15, marked the opening of the 2023 season of the Dane County Farmers Market, its 51st. Held rain or shine every Saturday morning from mid-April to early November on the Capitol Square in Madison, this market is the largest producer-only market in the U.S. In other words, the person selling flowers, plants, meat, cheese, vegetables, fruit, and other speciality produces their items within the State of Wisconsin. Each week, about 150 vendors set up early, the market opens at 6:15 AM and staff their booths until closing at 1:45 PM. About 75 were on the Square yesterday.
The weather was perfect for this year’s market opening – sunny with bright blue skies, temps in the upper 60s F at the opening, near 80 at the closing. The summer-like weather of the past few days did bring out the crowds. Lots of people dressed in shorts, t-shirts, and flip-flops, typical summer wear. The little girl in the pink was above the crowd, riding on her daddy’s shoulders. I should mention that the crowd moves in one direction around the Square counterclockwise. Why? I don’t know, it just is. Accept it and go with the flow.
Last Year – Opening Day, It Was Cold!
Last year on opening day, the sun was shining but we had to wear our winter coats and stocking caps, the temps for the market was in the mid-20s to the low 30s! Looking ahead at the weather for the next 10 days, we’ll be back to long pants and sweatshirts.
Wisconsin State Capitol
The Wisconsin State Capitol sits on an isthmus between two lakes, Mendota and Monona. Built in the early 1900s, the Capitol, by ordinance, is the tallest building in Madison thus it can be seen from many parts of the city. The gold plated statue named “Wisconsin,” perched on top of the Capitol, is over 15 feet tall. It’s often misnamed “Miss Forward” for another statue that sits on the Capitol Square at the foot of State Street (see photo below). Tours of the Capitol are available as is access to the walkway around the base of the rotunda. It’s definitely worth the stop.
The Capitol Square is the location of many events throughout the year. In mid-summer, the Concerts on the Square, attract more 20,000 people to sit on the lawn and listen to performances by the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra. Many of the walks, runs, marathons and other competitive events begin at the Capitol. Tons of wedding and graduation photos are taken every year on the Capitol grounds. It’s a popular place. We often take out-of-town visitors downtown to see and experience the vibrancy of the central part of the city.
As we made our way around the Capitol yesterday, I took a few photos to show how it looks from different sides.
On Farmer’s Market days, families purchase drinks and baked goods to enjoy on the lawn watching the crowds pass by.
This tree on the Capitol grounds is a playground for kids. Walk by on any Saturday morning and there will be a kid or two trying to reach new heights.
The Coffee Shops
On or near the Capitol Square there are at least four coffee shops, there may be more. Yesterday, most had a line out the door with folks waiting to purchase their favorite drink. For years, I couldn’t wait to pop into one of those shops for a cup of nice brewed black coffee, nothing fancy, not too strong. I’d sip from the cup on my walk around the Square. About a year ago, my physician put up caution flags around my daily coffee intake. As a result, I cut my coffee consumption in half, down two and 1/2 8 oz. cups a day. Yes, I loved my morning coffee but too much of a good thing was affecting my body. Maybe next week, I’ll skip coffee at home and get a cup to go for the Farmers Market. Sounds like a good plan.
The market opening drew a lot of vendors. There were some of the usual suspects, some that we’ve seen since first moving to Madison over 35 years ago. Unfortunately, one of the vendors we knew from our 4-H days wasn’t there. She passed away a few weeks ago, it was sad to see her spot empty.
There were also some new vendors with interesting products. Lots young people raising greens, growing mushrooms, and a couple getting into the grass fed beef and sheep business. It’s nice to see the next generation producing and selling healthy foods.
There are several cheese vendors at the market and most of them offer samples. There’s always a crowd tasting and buying cheese. Some of them sell fresh cheese curds, also known as “squeaky cheese.” Some visitors will purchase a small bag of cheese curds and munch their way around the Square.
In the late summer and early fall, this vendor sells corn on the cob by the truckloads. The rest of the year they sell frozen sweet corn plus other products. It’s a hard working family enjoying meeting their customers at the market.
The Gourd Guy has been vending at the market for over 25 years. He grows 20 kinds of hard shelled and ornamental gourds. They can be used for decor, birdhouses, even bowls and dippers. During the growing season, he also sells herbs and garden vegetables.
Stella’s Bakery is well known for its hot and spicy cheese bread and other bakery products. The bread is still warm when purchased at the market, it smells and tastes great. There always seems to be a crowd around Stella’s booth.
This is a new vendor at the market. I think they win for the best business name!
On just about every corner of the Square and places in between, there are people busking for gratuities. In other words, hoping for a buck or two in exchange for a few minutes of entertainment. Some sell CDs of their work. Here Sam Ness from nearby Baraboo, sings and plays solo. It was a real nice sound.
There were more buskers, one played a xylophone and another a recorder. Sometimes, there are groups of young musicians playing symphony music on their violins. You never know what you will get. It doesn’t matter, it will be good.
It wouldn’t be Madison without some kind of protest happening, especially when there is a crowd to observe.
Warning: the photo below may be disturbing to some viewers. So don’t look! The rest of you, have at it.
To be honest, when I took this photo, I was looking at the scene and its ability to tell a story. I didn’t really “see everything” until I got home and downloaded the photos to my computer.
Nothing more to say about that.
Downtown Madison is also attractive to the unsheltered. The city has done a lot to help people find shelter but the need is great.
This person made themselves at home at the entrance to a vacant building just off the Square. At least he/she has transportation and a bedroll for comfort at night. I think as a mostly civilized society, we can and should do better.
Yesterday, the first block of State Street below the Capitol was filled with vendors selling crafts and art work. They were busy showing and hawking their wares. The large crowd was strolling with drinks in hand on the pleasant day.
Ok, here’s the second best vendor name! This small business was started five years ago by Kenzie when she was a senior in high school. She’s now a graduate student in Social Work at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She makes and sells other items but scrunchies are her main business. Click here to find out how this business got its name.
Westside Community Market
During farmers market season (spring through fall), my Traveling Partner and I will head to the Capitol Square for the Dane County Farmers Market. Then take in one or two smaller markets on the west side of Madison, the Hilldale Farmers Market (they open May 6) and the Westside Community Market. A few of the larger vendors have booths at all three. We like the variety and usually it’s not as crowded. Yesterday, we stopped by the Westside Community Market in its new location at the University Research Park. It’s early in the season so many of the vegetable and fruit vendors have yet to make an appearance. Soon, asparagus, early radishes, peas, will make their appearance. Can’t wait.
An eclectic group of musicians jams every week at the Westside Market. In fact, they go by the name “Moldy Jam.” They create a lively and pleasant atmosphere with their easy to listen to brand of music.
Well folks, that about does it for the opening day of farmer’s markets in Madison. Before I close, I’d like to thank all the viewers of last week’s post from Accra, Ghana. Click here if you miss that episode.
Until next week, happy travels!
2 thoughts on “Dane County Farmers Market v.2023”
Even with snow in the forecast, the Farmers Market always makes it feel like spring. I want to point out, however, that when I was a student at the UW in the late 60s, I learned that the gold statue on top of the Capitol was Mrs. Rennebohm! When did they rename it?
Hey Mike, I got my information straight off the internet at wisconsin.gov. Even though, I’ve been in Madison over 35 years, Rennebohm’s was before my time. Thanks for checking in. TM
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