Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Farmer’s market returns Saturday

Madison is coming alive. The temperature is rising, out-of-towners in ill-fitting Wisconsin gear are taking over State Street, the street musicians are back and, best of all, the Dane County Farmer's Market is returning to Capitol Square. Starting this Saturday, Madisonians will be able to get fresh produce every Saturday from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Capitol Square and every Wednesday from 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the 200 block of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. I had a chance to talk with the market director, Larry Johnson, last week to get the inside scoop on the opening of the market.

Jason Engelhart: What can shoppers expect to see at the market during its first few weeks?

Larry Johnson: Well, the farmers will have a broader selection than you saw at the Winter Farmer's Market. In addition to meats, cheeses, houseplants and baked goods, there will be lettuce, spinach and possibly some hothouse tomatoes.


JE: Wow, there must be a lot of vendors to sell all those products. Can you tell us a little bit about how many vendors there are and how farmers go about becoming vendors?

LJ: There are over 160 vendors every weekend at the market. Potential vendors sign up on a waiting list and are invited to participate in the market once they reach the top. The list is currently three years long! Vendors with high seniority have a set spot at the market, while "daily vendors" get a spot on the square on a first-come, first-served basis.

JE: How far does the official Saturday market extend? Are the arts and crafts vendors affiliated with your organization?

LJ: The vendors across the street from the square are not affiliated with our market. We both apply to get a permit from the city, but vendors off the square apply separately from our market.

JE: What are the differences between the Saturday and Wednesday markets?

LJ: The Wednesday market is considerably smaller with about 40 vendors, but the selection is still quite large. Additionally, the clientele at the Wednesday market is a bit different. While chefs, families and students dominate the Saturday market, most of the people who come to the Wednesday market are businesspeople on breaks from work.

JE: Let's switch gears a bit and talk about farmer's markets as they relate to students. Where do you see farmer's markets fitting in with students' busy lives?

LJ: Farmer's markets provide a lot of opportunities for students to get quick, convenient foods that are considerably more nutritious than heavily processed foods. Raw fruits and vegetables, apple cider and Wisconsin-made products like tomato soup, salsa and Bloody Mary mix are just some of the locally grown, nutritious foods that students can enjoy with almost no preparation.

JE: That sounds great but aren't these foods much more expensive than equivalent products in grocery stores?

LJ: That's not necessarily true when you actually go through the list of products and make price comparisons. You also get a lot more for your money at the farmer's market than you do at a grocery store. There is less fuel used to get the food into your pantry, so it's better for the environment. Furthermore, because it is not shipped so long, there is less spoilage in locally grown produce. Finally, shopping at a farmer's market lets you talk to the person who grew and delivered your food to you, and I would argue there's a lot of value in that.

JE: How can students get more involved in the market?

LJ: There are opportunities to volunteer at the market every weekend. Students who are interested in volunteering should contact me at [email protected]. The market is also very open to class projects and organizations working with us. For example, every year the UW Dietetics Club puts on a meal at the winter market, and we have had many students come in and volunteer there to learn more about cooking from area chefs and cooks. We love having students involved in the market!

JE: A lot of people, particularly students, are concerned about eating organically and locally these days. Could you comment on organic produce's role at the market?

LJ: Only 10 to 15 percent of the market's produce is organic, but "organic" does not always imply "better." For example, a lot of the organic produce you see at the grocery store has many of the same problems as other foods generated by agribusiness. At the farmer's market, you know where your food is coming from, and that is something very special.

JE: Okay, I have one final question for you. What is your favorite product at the farmer's market?

LJ: Well, as a flower grower, I'm obligated to say the flowers, but there is one vendor who sells a cinnamon roll that is just wonderful!

I would recommend that all of you check out the Dane County Farmer's Market this weekend. Whether you get some flowers for that special someone, grab some cinnamon rolls with your roommates or just have a good conversation with a Wisconsin farmer, you're guaranteed to walk away from the market with something special.

Jason Engelhart is a junior majoring in economics and history. Excited for the farmer's market to emerge from hibernation? Let Jason know. E-mail him at [email protected].

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