The Dane County community gives a warm (literally) welcome back to the Farmers Market

The Dane County community gives a warm (literally) welcome back to the Farmers Market

On Saturday, April 13, the Wisconsin State Capitol came alive with people and vendors from all over the state, and even beyond, to celebrate the return of the Dane County Farmers Market. In fact, last year's farmers market had an estimated attendance of 20,000 people on most Saturdays

However, this was not always the case. 

“When my dad took me here in 1987 for SOAR, we stayed in Union South, and we got bikes, and we rode [to the Farmers Market]. It was definitely filled with agriculture, but it was not like this,” said UW-Madison alum Karen Levy-Brown, who was attending the market with her daughter, Talia Brown, a current university student. “It wasn’t a destination. There was not as much awareness, and it wasn’t so integrated into campus life.” 

Since then, the farmers market has cemented itself as a key destination. Nearly anything and everything can be found here, from baked goods and produce to tote bags and earrings. But this market is about more than what people buy; it also offers a sense of community.

One market patron, Marlo Hicks, shared that she tries to go to the farmers market every Saturday.

“I like to get my vegetables here, and it makes me feel like a good person,” she said. “Also, the walk is really nice.” 

Hicks shared that her favorite vendor is the bee man who wears a beehive hat and sells honey and honey sticks. 

Another market regular, Sarah Eisendrath, expressed her appreciation for one of the mushroom vendors. 

“I’ve been going to her since I came to college. I’m a senior now, and she recognizes me. We have a rapport, and her mushrooms are fantastic,” she said.

It is customers like Hicks and Eisendrath who represent the community and its love for the market. However, the real stars are the vendors who take the time and care to make the market as versatile and lively as it is. 

Wonka’s Harvest and Stella’s Bakery sit on adjacent sides of the State Street market corner but offer their own unique products and experience. 

Wonka’s Harvest has been a part of the farmers market for three years, according to Abigail Miller, its head of operations.  

“We wanted to become a part of this market because it’s so big and popular and there are a lot of other farmers that we really look up to here,” she said. “We’re pretty new, and I think we’re lucky to have gotten this spot as soon as we did. It’s been huge for us.”

Ginger and spinach are among the bestsellers at Wonka’s Harvest, but they also have some new items in this mix this time around. Miller was excited to share that dried tea blends, corn and popcorn are going to be added to its market products this spring. 

Stella’s has a different story, as it has reigned supreme at the market for quite some time, thanks in large part to its famous cheese bread. 

Jennifer Patrello, president of Stella’s Bakery, has been attending the market since she was four years old. Her parents had started the business, and before they became “Stella’s,” they came to the market to sell vegetables. 

“My sister was actually a UW student at the time, and she gave my parents the idea that they should start coming to Madison,” she said. “We were about an hour and 45 minutes away at the time.”

It seems that her sister had the right idea, as Stella’s has since blossomed into an essential market destination, as demonstrated by the stand fully selling out of its products an hour before the market officially ended. 

While an hour and 45 minute commute is lengthy, it’s nothing compared to the distance Mark Voss of Voss Organics traveled to become a market vendor.

“I moved here actually from California for the vibrancy of this very market,” he said. “It is the largest true farmers market in the country, and there’s a collegiality among the growers that you don’t really get anywhere else that I know of. I came here to learn and to be with growers who were generous with their knowledge. And you could see it has had staying power.”

It seems that Voss made an excellent choice when he decided to move to Wisconsin, as Voss Organics has now been a market vendor for 29 years. 

Voss, Patrello and Miller all have their own unique reasons for wanting to be a part of this amazing community, as do the other 150 vendors that take part in this market. 

It seems that each vendor is able to bring their own special charm to the market that keeps attendees coming back time and time again. So whether someone is just passing through town or here to stay, the Dane County Farmers Market is truly a must-see in Madison. 

Photo of the Dane County Farmers Market. Photo by Rachel Sokolow.

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