Johnson has been managing different organizations, businesses and projects for most of his life. He said he worked as a groundwater geologist for almost 20 years, and was living in Minnesota selling flowers at farmer’s markets before coming to Madison.
Johnson was living in Minnesota when his daughter and her family moved to Madison. He then chose to also move to Madison, and when he was searching for a new job, he said the manager position at the Dane County Farmer’s Market was a “perfect fit.”
Farmer’s market customers have different interests now as opposed to 11 years ago when he first started, Johnson said. Community Supported Agricultures are more popular now and are growing as a way for vendors to reach customers with their produce, he said.
“Customers are looking more for convenience now, more processed foods,” Johnson said.
Johnson said customers probably do not do as much canning as they used to. The market no longer sells produce by the bushel as often, he said. People are buying three ears of corn instead of a dozen at a time, he said.
He said the number of farmer’s markets have also increased in the past 10 years.
“In the summertime you can probably find a farmer’s market every single day of the week,” Johnson said.
The increase in farmer’s markets does not necessarily mean the Dane County Farmer’s Market is concerned about competition, Johnson said, describing the market as “the big gorilla in the room.”
The Dane County Farmer’s Market attracts an estimate of 20,000 customers on Saturday mornings and offers a lot of diversity, people watching and ambiance, Johnson said. The community goes to the farmer’s market for parades, rallies, protests and even politicians show up because “it’s the place to be on Saturday morning,” he said.
Johnson said the Dane County Farmer’s Market has evolved along with its Madison customers when it comes to social media. He said they have a social media intern that runs the Facebook and Twitter pages and the market uses this to reach out to UW students, which is a large population the market wants to attract.
The social media intern has been developing easy recipes for students living in the dorms who have limited equipment, skills and time, and it has been very popular, Johnson said.
During his time as manager, Johnson said he has developed close relationships with many local farmers. It is a producer-only market, so anyone behind a table must have produced what they are selling, which Johnson said creates opportunities for customers to interact with vendors about their product and ask how they make or grow things, or what they can use them for.
“They’re a bunch of characters, they have stories, just ask them,” he said.
Johnson said applications are currently being accepted, with a deadline of Feb. 10. A selection will be made for his replacement by April 1, and he said he plans to stay on board for a while to help transition.