Dane County Farmers’ Market
It’s difficult to pinpoint the one thing that makes the Dane County Farmers’ Market on the Capitol Square stand out from other outdoor farmers’ markets across the country.
It could be the cheese curds and the spicy cheese bread that set it apart. After all, the market is tucked into the heart of America’s Dairyland. Or perhaps it’s the fact that — with one hundred and sixty vendors offering their goods each week — the market is the nation’s largest producer-only farmers’ market.
Shoppers flood the market from opening weekend in the spring through its last gasp in late fall, savoring the progression from early blooms and honey to heirloom tomatoes and strawberries to pumpkins and acorn squash. Started in 1972 by then-Mayor Bill Dyke, it unites Madison’s urban and rural cultures. Students, families with kids in tow, alumni back for the weekend, and other visitors browse the wide array of local products while admiring the towering State Capitol.
“It’s a great background,” says Mary Geissbuhler, co-owner of Brunkow Cheese in Darlington, Wisconsin. Her stand, known for its popular Brun-uusto Baked Cheese, has participated in the market for nearly two decades. “It’s fun to come up here, and you meet people from all over the country,” she says.
Although her stand has remained in the same spot on the Square for about ten years, Geissbuhler recalls a time when claiming territory was stressful: “Originally, you just had to drive around. They’d let you on the Square at 6:30 [a.m.], and it was first come, first served.”
Slow Food UW, a student organization that is a certified nonprofit business and a licensed restaurant that promotes sustainability and eating local, relies on the market’s produce for some of its events. Oona Mackesey-Green ’15, who served as the group’s co-executive director last year, notes that the market provides the chance to connect directly with the food’s sources.
“One of the reasons that I really love Madison [is that] it has so much going on here, but you’re so close to agriculture and to other styles of living,” the Madison native says. “When you get to talk with the farmers at somewhere like the Dane County Farmers’ Market, you get to really ask them how they grow their food [and learn] the traditions behind it.”
Maggie Yoder ’15, a frequent market visitor, appreciates how the event draws locals and visitors alike each week. “I like the community feel of it,” she says. “Having everyone together — that makes me feel like Madison is alive.”
Published in the Fall 2015 issue