Friday, September 16, 2011



When other blogs or news services run stories on the best American farmers markets Madison's market always makes the list. Living in Madison for the past two years, we now know why.
The outdoor market runs from mid-April to early November. There's a midweek version held off the Square but the main market assembles on the Capitol grounds on Saturday mornings. It officially gets started at six in the morning but you can arrive even earlier during the summer as the local producers start setting up their tents and tables and begin the process of laying out their goods. The plat for the market circles around the Capitol Square. Madison's capitol anchors the center of the market like a huge wedding cake surrounded by a salad of vegetation in lush green grounds and overflowing planters anchoring the four corners of the Square.
We like to get there early before the real crowds start packing the sidewalks. There's an unwritten rule that you circle the market in one direction making only right hand turns as you go around. Once the crowds start to form you can lose a loved one in a mere five feet and God forbid you try and turn around to go back to a vendor you missed. Either you need to move out of the walking ring to the street, which is no easy task, or you just have to go around again. I've never clocked it at high traffic time but my guess is you need to think about a good hour to make the complete circuit, baring stopping to pick up any purchases, and stopping to purchase is what the market is about.
You can find people from around the world and all cultures both buying and selling the bounty the market has to offer.
Color and fragrance abound from almost every booth. Flowers are the obvious instigators from the highly potent lilies
to the delicate pastel of the ranunculus, but flowers aren't the only item producing some pretty potent color splashes.
Eggplants are supposed to be purple
but who knew you could get peppers in the same pretentious purple.
Grocery store carrots carry that dull wimpy orange but these organic carrots burst with an orange verging on crimson.
Our olfactory senses are assaulted on an equal par with our sense of sight. We all have our favorites smells at the market. Rick was fascinated by the earthy scent of the heirloom and cherry tomatoes,
while I marveled at the sweet smells of the honeyman. Emmy is a devotee of Stella's spicy mozzarella infused bread served piping hot. You can't pass by their booth without being hooked in by the smell of fresh baking bread. I don't think we've ever made it home with a whole loaf. We tend to tear it apart as we walk the square. By the time we're back to the car the only thing left is the plastic wrapper.
If you're in Wisconsin you are obligated to pay homage to the cheese and this farmers market has some of the best cheeses to be found this side of France. From the exotic to the local cheese curds that squeak when you chew them, cheese is present from the opening day of the market to its last cold gasp in November.
And if that's not enough there's entertainment from street musicians and political activists happening like street theater as you pause for a breather on the open corners of the square. The market has become a ritual for us. With our recyclable bags, a taste for the organic and home grown, and a realization that this is truly an example of the beauty of life we feel blessed to be able to walk this market every Saturday morning in our reclaimed lives.


We always go to the market very early not just to get the pick of the crop but to avoid what Madisonians affectionately call "The Farmer's Market Shuffle".  You can avoid it by going late and the pay off there is a possible bargain.  No farmer wants to pack up and take home the goods he brought.
Just like going to the supermarket, bring your own bags - c'mon half the point is being green!
Talk to the farmers about where their farms are and how they grow their produce.  If you want to shop local and eat clean, you want to be sure that is the case.
Stuff your pockets with small bills and change - it's no fun searching for change of a $20 for $1.50 purchase.
If I have few or no plans for that day I'll walk the entire market first - usually with a latte and pain au chocolat in hand - noting my interests and make a second trip around to buy.
When we lived in NYC we were literally around the corner from the flower market. Our home was always filled with fresh flowers.  Now I depend on the Farmer's Market so I take a flower bucket or pail to hold a little water 'til we get the precious cargo back home.
We love our pooch Buddy but in Madison it's "NO DOGS ALLOWED" so check the local rules before putting the leash on Fido for a trip to the market.

Vendeur de Fromages de Chevre, Paris, 1935
Willy Ronis, photographer
Represented by Hackelbury Fine Art, London

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