There’s a reason Madison consistently ranks among the best cities in the country to live. In nearly every article on the topic, you’ll find the same thing mentioned: The Dane County Farmers’ Market.
What sets the DCFM apart is that it’s the largest producers-only market in America. That means, in order to sell it, you have to grow, make, raise, or bake it. While the DCFM has found its winter home inside the Garver Feed Mill, the 15,000 to 20,000 shoppers that flood the Capitol Square from April to November know the best experience is found during outdoor season.
And that’s where the market will return for its 51st season, Saturday, April 15th.
Here are a few things you might not know:
1. The market is designed to make you feel like you’re in Europe. Former Madison Mayor Bill Dyke modeled the Dane County Farmers’ Market after Europe’s open markets. Before that, Dane County farmers had adopted a bartering system, using grocery store parking lots, gas stations, and heavily trafficked street corners to sell their products.
2. Only five farmers showed up the first Saturday. Luckily, that didn’t last long! The following year, dozens of farmers started lining up a day early to secure the best spots on the Square. By 1974, market organizers issued seasonal stall passes to better organize the growing market.
3. There’s a multi-year wait-list to become a market member. A handful of vendors only sell once a year, just to retain their memberships, while up to 80 attend every market, year-round. Take Mary Uselman, the woman behind Don’s Produce, for example. Mary has sold at every market since the 1970s, usually with her husband, Don, who passed away in early 2023.
4. Twenty new vendors are joining the 2023 lineup. Click here to learn about them. The new vendors replace sellers who’ve decided to retire or not renew their memberships.
5. The market’s highly anticipated global cookbook will be released mid-season. The DCFM collaborated with a local cookbook author to compile a book of recipes using vendor products and produce.
In addition to the Dane County Farmers’ Market, dozens of other Wisconsin towns have their own incredible farmers’ markets. From fresh, in-season produce to cookies, crafts, and, of course, cheese—here are six markets to add to your 2023 Bucket List! (PS: Not all have opened for the season yet, but the link above offers an interactive search tool of all Wisconsin farmers’ markets: where they are, when they start, and what they sell.)
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