It’s part spectacle, part entertainment - and it’s a lot more fun than a trip to the grocery store.
After five long months of winter, the outdoor Dane County Farmers’ Market made its season debut on April 16 with visitors stocking up on fresh vegetables, hand-baked breads, artisan cheeses, early plants and spring flowers.
For some winter-weary Wisconsinites, the outdoor market is the year’s first taste of favorite treats.
Every Saturday, Poynette business Chris and Lori’s Bakehouse sells more than 14 varieties of scones, ranging from ultra-healthy to slightly healthy, the last including a sconut - a cross between a scone and a doughnut with a sugar glaze on top. The chocolate chip sconut recently won the praise “of the top fabulous foodie finds” by a Milwaukee online magazine. Owners Lori and Chris Robson say they created the treat two years ago and it continues to be popular.
“It is hard to keep up with demand; we probably sell between 200-300 a day,” Lori Robson said.
The white chocolate scone is also a crowd favorite, but there’s plenty of healthful options with whole grains, no sugar and gluten free.
Whatever people are looking for, they are likely to find it at the Dane County Farmers’ Market, In its 44th year, it’s the largest producer-only farmers’ market in the United States. Market manager Bill Lubing said that is something to be proud of, with an average of 160-170 vendors each week.
“The people behind the tables have grown or made everything they sell," Lubing. "At the market you can develop a relationship with the sellers, ask them about their products, and understand the process,” Lubing said.
The market has spurred a community of foodies and chefs, who seek out local seasonal fruits, vegetables, and products that they can highlight on their dinner tables.
Lubing said there will be plenty of items on hand during the first outdoor market days, including his favorite, frost-sweetened spinach, along with other spring greens, hot house cucumbers and tomatoes. Vendors will also have overwintered vegetables, honey, maple syrup, baked goods and early plants.
Located in downtown Madison in the shadow of the State Capitol, the venue attracts locals and tourists, who are delighted by the energetic mix of people, sights and sounds.
A sight worth a double-take at the market is McFarland beekeeper Dale Marsden, with his trademark beehive hat. He’s been a regular seller at the market since 1998, and after being sandwiched between a vendor who wore a brat hat and another one who donned a cheese hat, he knew he needed a trademark topper.
“I was a little afraid to wear it at first, but as soon as I did, my sales went up, so it’s a good idea and a
great way to get a conversation started with people,” Marsden said.
His mission at the market is to turn people on to the different Marsden’s Pure Honey varieties including wildflower, knapweed and goldenrod that are all-natural energy boosters and a healthy alternative to sugar.
Vendors also look forward to seeing regular customers return each spring. Joan and John Oosterwyk of The Land of Oo’s welcomes them back as they drop off all the empty jelly jars that customers finished off over the winter, and need replenishments.
The Cottage Grove-based business has more than 50 varieties of jam and jellies - including the traditional raspberry, strawberry and blueberry. They also sell the more exotic varieties, like lemon ginger pear jelly - great spread on toast - and red onion jam, a tasty complement to a grilled cheese sandwich.
Over the years, the market has grown in popularity. That’s something John Lutz has seen first hand, having started selling vegetables back in the mid-1970s when he was just 13 years old. Today he offers market goers strawberries and corn, grown on his farm in Marshall.
Even though it's changed, Lutz still loves the market because it attracts both locals and tourists, who are truly excited to be there.
“The market is a great opportunity to meet people and educate them on where their food comes from and how it is grown,” Lutz said. “There’s a connection between people that you don't get when you buy your food from a grocery store, and that gives people a higher appreciation for what they are eating.”
The outdoor Dane County Farmer’s Market is held on Saturdays from 6 a.m. - 2 p.m. around the Capitol Square. For more information visit, www.dcfm.org.