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Dane County Farmers' Market

Sunday, September 29, 2013

With a long week of work behind me and a free Saturday right around the corner, waking up at sunrise usually isn't something I look forward to...except when a visit to the Dane County Farmers' Market (DCFM) immediately follows.

So what is the DCFM?  According to their website, it's "the largest producer-only farmers' market in the U.S.  All items are produced locally by the vendor behind the table.  No resale is allowed."  Every Saturday from mid-April to mid-November (6am to 2pm rain or shine), 150+ vendors line the Madison Capitol Square with their produce and products.  Regardless of the time of the year, you'll always find seasonal produce, fresh baked goods, fresh cheeses (including squeaky cheese curds), honey, flowers and herbs, meats, among others.

For the following reasons, I highly recommend giving the DCFM a visit:
  •  You're able to see what's in season, and thus, know what to be cooking with.  If you want to see a list of what to expect before you head out, the market has weekly newsletters available online that outline what produce is in season.  This week, some of the more popular items included yellow and purple cauliflower, ground cherries, a large variety of apples, sweet corn, pumpkins, eggplant, green onions, carrots, and radishes.
  • There are a number of stands with free samples, and those who don't have samples laying around will most likely be more than happy to give you a taste of their product if you're curious.  [Side note:  For first-timers, make sure to stop at the intersection of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and East Main Street for some free pan fried cheese].
Cheddar and purple cauliflower, turnips, beets, shallots, and bell peppers.
  • If you're like me (and are from the Madison area), you'll most likely run into a few familiar faces each week.  At the very least, you'll feel welcomed both by the vendors and the locals.
  • The downtown architecture is amazing.  Whether it's the Wisconsin State Capitol, the Monona Terrace, or any of the shops lining the square, you're sure to be impressed.
Monona Terrace. 
  • There's something for everyone.  In addition to the countless food stands, local musicians and artists fill the east blocks of State Street showing off their crafts.
  • You're financially supporting local farmers, businesses, and individuals.  Organizers make sure that everything sold at the event was grown/produced in Wisconsin.  In fact, new this fall, vendors have a map next to their booth that shows the location of their farm/business.
Beets and bell peppers.
  • You get your fair share of exercise.  Taking into account that one lap around the Square is roughly 3/4 miles, I usually rack up about 5 miles between walking the Square several times, walking down to the Monona Terrace, and visiting local shops.
  • You're able to see the individuals and local businesses who, day after day, strive to present us with the best of the best in their areas of expertise.  In addition to putting a face and name to a certain product, it's also nice to have them there to answer any questions you might have.
    N. Carroll St. looking southeast.

    To those who have yet to visit the Dane County Farmers' Market but intend to, I'll leave you with the following advice:
    1. Walk the Square counterclockwise.  Trust me, you don't want to be that one person walking against the crowd.
    2. If you're not a fan of large crowds, get there early.  By 9am or so, the Square really starts to fill up.
    3. If you don't mind large crowds, get there for their last hour, as there are many last minute deals.
    4. Bring your own bags.  While many vendors will supply you with plastic bags, this benefit to us is a cost to them.  Besides, it's environmentally friendly.
    5. Take more than one lap around the Square.  Sometimes I go as much as five times and notice something (or someone) new each time.
    6. This may seem obvious, but make sure you have cash on you; no cards or checks are accepted.
    7. Not sure what to do for parking?  Luckily there are plenty of parking garages nearby, almost always costing only a few bucks.

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