Spring means the Farmers Market

(But the Farmer’s Market doesn’t always mean spring!)

I heard today was the first day of our Dane County Farmers’ Market here in Madison – said to be the largest in the United States. At around 7am I opened my laptop to make sure I heard correctly and this article popped up.


I could hear the 40mph wind howling outside and what sounded like icy rain drops horizontally smashing into the windows. Flipping my laptop shut with a groan, I seriously contemplated crawling back into bed. But I thought if these hearty farmers can brave opening day, I surely can walk three lousy blocks to Capitol Square and make a quick round.

So I grabbed our farmers’ market tote, threw on a winter coat that last week we’d put away for the season in the spare room closet (oops), and headed out. Should’ve worn gloves.


As expected, the stands were a little sparse, but the mood was jovial and defiant of Mother Nature’s wintery curveball. Everyone I made eye contact with seemed to be transmitting the same message – “why do we live here?”

Early spring isn’t as bountiful as later in the season, but it’s a great time to score some root vegetables, eggs, and Wisconsin cheeeeeeese!  Oh, and bakeries – I don’t know how these at some point qualified to be in the farmer’s market, but I’m not complaining.

The route is also home to some passionate folks – collecting signatures for a referendum, giving free exercise classes, or saving the world. Democracy at its best. Today was no exception. Around the first corner I came upon a couple of shivering college students handing out flyers about their crowd funding project – Project Home by Re-Volv – to bring solar power to lower income families. They are 75% to their goal – check it out!

Next up was a stalwart trio from a local rowing club looking for new recruits. They hadn’t gotten any takers yet, but their banner had blown away four times by 8:30. I took a quick picture, shivered thinking about icy Lake Mendota, and moved on.


The best thing this time of year is the sweet (metaphorically and literally) “wintered spinach.” If you don’t know what it is, you should really “learn more.” It’s meant to be eaten like potato chips. So good!

Before heading home, I warmed up with a cup of coffee at Colectivo – an innovative Milwaukee roaster that conveniently opened an outpost right on the farmer’s market route. Today’s feature was Gaia – a blend roasted from women-led farms around the world. A perfect remedy for my icy hands and face!


In the end, my finds were pretty typical for early April: potatoes, an onion, winter spinach, a couple blueberry cornbread muffins, and some Brun-uusto style Scandinavian cheese. Looking forward to (hopefully) warmer Saturdays ahead!


If you want to read about the Dane County Farmer’s Market at its seasonal peak, here’s a post from guest blogger and friend-of-founder, Caroline.

A counterclockwise stroll through abundance.


Every Saturday morning, from April to November, the heart of downtown Madison, Wisconsin, undergoes a transformation.


Even before the sun’s first light hits the dome of our beautiful Capitol building, the surrounding Square comes to life. Vans and trucks pull up curbside, engines purr to a stop, doors slam, hatches open. There is the scraping of table legs against cement and canopies in all colors begin popping up along the outer edge of the Square. At each stand, empty spaces slowly but steadily fill up with stacks of vegetables, trays of pastry, rows of colorful jars, blocks of cheese, flats of flowers, and regiments of potted plants. It is Saturday morning, and the vendors of the Dane County Farmers’ Market have arrived.

Photo Sep 27, 8 55 16 AM

The Dane County Farmers’ Market (DCFM, for short) is, reportedly, the largest producer-only market in the United States. It’s a biweekly occasion, held Saturdays and Wednesdays, but Saturday is the big one. Around 300 vendors participate every year; 160 or so every Saturday. Since its inception in 1972, our market requires that all the vegetables, flowers, meats, cheese and specialty products be both produced in Wisconsin and sold at market by their producers. Resellers need not apply. Quality, along with origin, is also important. The average wait time before producers are invited to sell at DCFM is five years. These guiding principles are very much in line with ours at Fair Indigo: to support small producers (local where possible) while curating a compelling selection of high quality products.

Photo Sep 27, 8 56 17 AM

Ethos aside, you know what we most love about our market? It’s just a really fun place to spend part of your Saturday. Starting around 6:00 a.m., the Square begins to slowly fill up with Madison residents and visitors. We tote bags and backpacks, we sip on coffee, we push strollers with children wearing crumbs of today’s must-have scone or donut around their mouths. We are showered and unshowered, wearing heels or pajama pants, in chattering groups or alone with our thoughts. We come when the sun shines and when it rains. We have lists or we impulse buy (often a little of both). We carry wallets fat with cash or strategize how to spend our handful of food assistance vouchers.


We meet up with friends, take artistic pictures of kohlrabi, sit on the Capitol lawn to eat cheese curds and soak up the sun and people watch. We sometimes spend more than we planned, but feel only passing remorse about it because everything we take home is just so beautiful or delicious or both. And we walk counter-clockwise around the Square. Always counter-clockwise. Why? Well, that’s just how it’s done.


And then, by 2:00 p.m., our market, this community spectacle that’s different every week, yet so familiar and consistent, comes to a close. The crowds thin until all that’s left are the oversleepers, the extended brunchers, the bargain hunters and those for whom the market wasn’t their primary objective, anyway. The vendors continue selling, happily but hastily, up until the moment they load the last bit of their wares and supplies back into their vehicles and head back to their homes and farms. And it wouldn’t be unreasonable to contend that everyone’s day ends a bit richer than it started.

This post guest authored by Caroline Sober-James, friend of Fair Indigo, fan of the Dane County Farmer’s Market and regular worker at the Harmony Valley Farm market stand.