Madison residents looking for local and sustainable food could soon have year-round access as more specifics are coming into focus for a public market.
The city’s plans for the Madison Public Market will support the area’s local food system and food businesses, according to a statement from the city.

Dan Kennelly, economic development specialist, said the project is still in its first phase of business planning, which is reaching out to potential vendors and conducting consumer surveys to determine what kind of customer base there will be. So far, he said the responses from vendors and consumers have been extremely positive.

“We did a survey of the community and we got over 2,000 responses, which is incredibly high for a city survey,” Kennelly said. “The overwhelming majority of the people that responded expressed a positive interest in the public market.”

A variety of producers and vendors are excited for the plans for the market, including small farmers operating on a few acres as well as large businesses, Kennelly said.  The market will also host some of Madison’s artists and sell local crafts and other goods, he said.

The next two phases in the market plans are selecting a site and finalizing the process to design the market, each of which will take three to four months, Kennelly said. The city hopes to have a finalized business plan by fall, he said.

Adam Haen, kitchen manager for the Food Enterprise and Economic Development program, which rents space for commercial and casual kitchen users, said FEED has been involved in the public market planning. He said the hardest part of organizing the public market has been the logistics of making everything work for both producers and consumers.

“A big part of it is going to be transportation and location. It’s keeping the ease and ability of producers and consumers trying to get to a public market,” Haen said.

The year-round availability of a public market will be a “good complement” to the Dane County Farmers’ Market, Haen said. While the farmers’ market already has a strong customer base, he said a public market will make fresh, local food available during the times when the farmers’ market is closed.

Larry Johnson, manager of the Dane County Farmers’ Market, said he does not think the public market will be competition.

“Madison is a very food conscious, supportive community,” Johnson said.

Kennelly agreed and said he thinks the public market will amplify the food culture in Madison rather than create competition between markets that can work together. He said the farmer’s market is a “beloved Madison institution” and the public market would not change that, but rather provide a different experience for consumers.
The market is marketed to be an “anchor of a dynamic food district” and is expected to become the focal point of Madison’s food system, Kennelly said.

“We’ve got great farmer’s markets, great restaurants, great food businesses, and I think the public market will create an epicenter of all that,” Kennelly said. “It will be the place that kind of celebrates and brings together all of these various things related to food in Madison.”