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Sunday, September 24, 2023
An assortment of apples on display at the market.

‘There's room for everybody in this industry’: Dane County Farmers’ Market returns to Capitol Square

The market includes over 100 Wisconsin-based vendors of various local industries, from sweets to produce.

If the return of the Memorial Union Terrace chairs or the sun-tanning students on Bascom Hill weren’t any indication, the reopening of Madison’s beloved Dane County Farmers’ Market means summer is officially on its way.

Students, families and community members flocked to Capitol Square Saturday to enjoy Wisconsin’s favorite items at the nation's largest producer-only farmers market. Heading into its 51st year with over 100 vendors, thousands of locals circled the square to shop classic favorites, as well as the 20 new stands.

Ted Ballweg, owner of Savory Accents, emphasized the unique environment of the market allows thousands of market-goers to connect to vendors, farms and companies they support. His brand, which specializes in all-organic chili peppers and produces over 30 related products, has been selling here for 41 years. 

Ballweg said he has seen how this market has become a renowned Madison tradition and also highlighted the significance of the market for the farming industry. 

“There's something so basic about growing things that I think once you’ve been involved in it, it never leaves you,” Ballweg said.

The co-managers of Wonka’s Harvest, Patty Grimmer and Abigail Miller, expressed a similar sentiment and stressed the need for more promotion of the agricultural industry. 

“Our average aged farmer is like 60 plus, so we really do need young people to continue wanting to farm,” Grimmer said.

Alongside this goal to see more young people, especially women, working in agriculture, Grimmer said Wonka’s Harvest also strives to reduce the environmental impacts of farming by limiting soil disruption and selling all-organic produce. 

Bill Warner of Snug Haven Farm has been selling his produce at the market since 1989. He said he appreciates that the farmers market has remained local since its inception, allowing the public to see the clear benefits of buying locally.

“What happens, in general, is when smaller markets try to become bigger and allow more stuff in, they just go downhill faster,” he said.

Warner also highlighted the economic importance of the market, as the thousands of people visiting the market throughout the day are also bringing their business to other downtown stores and restaurants. Warner did note an expansion of items sold at the market, which he said boils down to the fact that “there's room for everybody in this industry.”

Robyn Kitson, co-owner and founder of Driftless Chocolates, said the market formed a tightly-knit community of vendors. By utilizing ingredients from many different vendors and small businesses throughout the world, Kitson said Driftless Chocolates exemplifies how, despite being in competition with each other, these small companies lend support to one another in order to keep local markets alive. 

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Kitson also emphasized the invaluable quality of care small businesses, like those present at the market, possess.

“The people that are behind the stands at this market are the actual producers, and so you can talk to them about what went into it, whatever it is that they're selling, and typically that is something that is deep to their heart and a labor of love,” Kitson said. 

The farmers market will be open from 6:45 a.m. to 1:45 p.m. Saturdays on Capitol Square from April 15 to Nov. 11, 2023.

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