The 5 Best Things About the Dane County Farmers’ Market
The Dane County Farmers’ Market on the Capitol Square in Madison is one of the nation’s largest and most respected markets. It features only hand-picked Wisconsin producers selling the stuff they grow or make. And it’s a joyous occasion. Here are 5 reasons why.
Before dawn every Saturday from mid-April into November, about 180 local farmers and other vendors start setting up all the way around the Capitol Square for the Dane County Farmers’ Market (DCFM). They open at 6 a.m.
By 2 p.m. as the sellers pack up to leave (that is, those who haven’t sold out hours ago), usually about 20,000 people will have strolled past or stopped to get their share of the bounty on glorious display.
Many of us come back Saturday after Saturday (and sometimes on Wednesdays, too), all season long. Here’s why we love it so much:
1. It’s a True Farmers’ Market: You Mostly Buy Things From the Hands That Grew or Made Them
Some outdoor markets billed as “farmers’ markets” actually sell imported produce, flowers, and a variety of consumer products from all over the globe. But at our farmer’s market, you hand your money to the farm family that grew or made what you’re buying.
The DCFM started that way in 1972, and it’s never changed.
2. Variety: Enjoy the Changing Harvest Through the Seasons
The great thing about the DCFM isn’t just the variety of magnificent fruits and vegetables available on any given week, it’s also finding something new pretty much every week.
Are the raspberries in yet? The corn? The apples?
You can check here for a weekly update of the items for sale, but most of us just show up and let our eyes do the inventory. You have to see the selection in person because many of the items on that list, such as “onions,” appear in multiple tents in eye-popping varieties.
Do you prefer tomatoes grown in dirt? Or hydroponically? Organically? We’ve got you covered.
Have you ever seen rainbow Swiss chard next to purple fingerling potatoes next to candy-cane-striped radishes next to a box of golden, orange, red and purple carrots? Step right up. (WARNING TO FOODIES: You will lose your bloomin’ mind.)
3. There’s SO MUCH MORE Than Produce
Raise your hand if you like meat, cheese, or baked goods. The DCFM offers a ridiculously large variety of all three, and my friends, this is the good stuff.
We don’t really need to brag about Wisconsin cheese — if you really REALLY like cheese, you already know about that. Enjoy the many free samples of this product as you walk the Square.
For fun, watch other people try cheese samples — their eyes roll back in their heads and they say, “Ohhhhh yeeeaaaaahhh.”
As for meat, the alphabetical list begins with beef, bison, and bratwurst. Sounds like an excellent title for a polka, no?
Are you out of elk steaks? Did you just grill your last pound of emu? No problemo. It’s here.
Perhaps the most pervasive aroma wafting over the Square on market days is fresh bakery. Breads, muffins, scones, pies, tarts, torts and beyond. Hot spicy cheese bread, for the record, isn’t as good as it sounds — it’s WAY better. Ditto for jalepeno cheddar cheese flatbread.
In addition to meat, cheese, and baked goods, you’ll find honey, nuts, oils and vinegars, jams and jellies, pickled everything, and dozens more delicacies.
4. Great Advice About What You’re Buying
Whether you’re buying some garlic ramps, freshly made spinach linguini, or a flat of begonias for the front yard, you can take home more than just the product — you can take home the expertise of the person who sells it to you.
The folks who sell at the DCFM love their stuff and know their stuff. They’re happy to tell you how they use a certain vegetable, herb, or salsa. They’ll explain which plants like shade. And they’ll happily answer two of the best questions you can ask at the DCFM:
- “What’s that?”
- “What can you do with it?”
So ask. Listen. Learn. Try something new. Come back next week and do it all again.
5. All the Other Action on the Square and Down State Street
The DCFM occupies the sidewalk around the Wisconsin State Capitol Building. Cross the street during the market and find restaurants, cafes, museums, unique shops, food and beverage carts, arts and crafts for sale, musicians playing — all kinds of fun stuff.
Or just step inside our beautiful Capitol Building. Walk around or take a free tour. In the summer you can even go up to the sixth floor and out onto an observation deck for one of the most spectacular views in Madison (or anywhere, IMHO).
The DCFM is also a perfect jumping-off point for State Street — the main artery that joins the Square with the University of Wisconsin campus a little over a half-mile away.
State Street is lined with wonderful places for all ages to shop, eat, drink, and otherwise goof off.
(Learn more about the Capitol Square and State Street.)
When to Go
- Open each Saturday, 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. from April 16 through November 5.
- A smaller DCFM, on Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., which extends from the Capitol Square to the Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center, runs on Wednesdays, 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., from April 20 to November 2.
- Check here for special events that add some extra fun to DCFM Saturdays, such as Cows on the Concourse, Maxwell Street Days, and the Madison Mini-Marathon.
What the Locals Know
Prepare for the Haul
Bring a few sturdy canvas bags, or a basket with handles. Or a cart. Or a wagon. Seriously.
Walk This Way
We walk the Square counter-clockwise for the most part. Why? Dunno. We just do. Perhaps in farmer’s markets on the exact opposite hemisphere, they all walk clockwise.
Study Uniquely Madison Life Forms
Grant yourself time to sit, just sit — you’ll find plenty of perfect places — and watch people go by. This is a quintessential Madison experience. Our guarantee: You will smile.
For a Truly Deluxe DCFM Experience: The Edgewater Package
The Edgewater’s Farmer’s Market Package includes a special price for a room for two on a Friday night, breakfast for two at The Statehouse, two drinks from The Cafe, car service to/from the market, two Edgewater logo tote bags and two Edgewater travel mugs.
Reserve these packages before Nov. 1, 2016, at least three days before your stay.