Almost everyone who’s lived through a summer or fall in Madison knows about the Dane County Farmer’s Market. They’ve gotten up early on Saturdays and circled the Capitol Square for fresh and local produce.
But what many don’t know is the Dane County Farmer’s Market doesn’t end when it gets cold. In fact, it’s open pretty much year-round.
There are three seasons for the Dane County Farmer’s Market, and the Late Winter Market is in its current cycle. While the selection is limited to the winter season, it offers a wide variety of products from some of your favorite summer stands.
“The community knows that when they come to our market and interact with a farmer or a baker or a cheesemaker, they’re talking to the producer themselves,” Jill Carlson Groendyk, Assistant Market Manager of the DCFM said. “There’s this wealth of knowledge that they have access to.”
The Late Winter Market is located east of the Capitol at the Garver Feed Mill, an iconic, renovated building that hosts a number of small shops and gathering hall.
It’s a multi-faceted space that welcomes local artisans and mom and pop-style venues to set up and sell to customers. It’s a community-building that welcomes the Late Winter Market on Saturday mornings.
Stepping into the Garver Feed Mill on Saturday morning, you’re welcomed by the sound of a small crowd and the mixed aroma of coffee, pizza, baked goods and spices. People of all ages wander the market, following the smells and excitement.
“We are excited to be on the east side surrounded by so many family neighborhoods and great organizations,” Groendyk said. “The relocation was really motivated by the idea that with more space we could host even more of our market vendors and with a more diverse and abundant product mix, we could better serve our patrons during the winter.”
The hall is lit by large windows and light bulbs on hanging, circular metal frames. Plants drape the wooden pillars, brick walls and the picnic tables in the center.
Art dangles from the ceiling and tempts you to climb to the second floor to get a better view of it. From the walkway upstairs, customers have access to a string of shops and a display of the entire market.
On your right, you see a graffiti-clad bar area where an Ian’s Pizza sells its slices. To your left, you see an open area lined with white tables, hosting crates and display cases filled with local produce.
The vendors are engaged Wisconsin residents, selling different assortments of vegetables, pastries, cheese and other animal products. The Dane County Farmer’s Market published a list of what their vendors offer, which includes specialty items like yarn, catnip mice, goat milk soap, hides and leather.
These vendors are registered members of the Dane County Farmer’s Market and receive many perks, but the main perk is marketing their products to Madison citizens and working with other producers under the Farmer’s Market brand.
“It’s an amazing group of people,” Cora White, vendor of Violet Rose Bakery, said. “We all have something in common, and that’s that we’re all hardworking people, driven by necessity and creating these really great homemade products.”
Though she took a break to raise her family, this is White’s first year back as one half of a mother-daughter team, selling their popular empanadas and spicy cheese bread.
Her mother was the founding owner of Stella’s, and now through Violet Rose Bakery, their stand has been open for 30 years — a hot ticket many wish they could get.
With an extensive waiting list, the Dane County Farmer’s Market selects its members through an application process. All applicants need to be up to date in their licenses and permits to sell and meet local and state laws to sell produce.
Along with these laws, members hold to the guidelines of the DCFM Rule Book. Vendors cannot sell certain things like hobby ware, arts and crafts and live animals. They’re also prohibited from selling brand-name items, keeping with the local nature of the market.
“There are two main rules that make it different than other markets,” White said. “You have to make the products in Wisconsin and you have to make it yourself.”
The DCFM is big on appearance, too, straying from vendor noise or fumes that may disrupt customers and other vendors.
Another way the DCFM monitors its members is under three selling categories — directly produced products, indirectly produced products and wild-gathered products.
Directly produced products are grown or raised on local farms and properties. Indirectly produced products are combined from purchased raw ingredients and vendor-grown components.
Allowable ingredients to buy are cheese, flour and grain products, candy, and cured and smoked meat. Wild-gathered products are found in the naturally, but are limited to sections in the guidelines.
The Dane County Farmer’s Market has a total of 275 members who sell their produce around Capitol Square in warm weather. At the Late Winter Market, about 30-40 vendors cram into rows at the Garver Feed Mill for customers to walk through.
The Late Winter Market rules outline that vendors must have attended at least one Summer Market and 50% of the ingredients in products must be grown by vendors.
Members who have attended five or more Summer Markets are given preference for space in the Garver Feed Mill, and set up is usually done by 6 a.m. or under discretion of Market Manager.
Once all is set up, the market opens from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. From there, the Dane County community gathers to buy good local produce and support their fellow neighbors.
The DCFM prides itself on offering a fun, weekly gathering for the entire region to participate in. Regardless of age, race or belief, everyone is welcome to participate, buy some food and maybe share a few stories. Groendyk added the Late Winter Market would not be possible without the warm community they serve.
“We have been so pleased with the patron support that we’ve seen,” Groendyk said. “People are truly coming out even when it’s icy and frigid and cold. They’re coming to market and they’re enjoying it.”
The Late Winter Market is open every Saturday until April 4 from 8 a.m. – 12 p.m. For more information, visit their website or attend the market at the Garver Feed Mill. If you’re missing out on fresh accessible produce from friendly local people, there’s no need to wait for the snow to melt.