Dane County Farmers Market, Madison
When locals say "the Square," they mean the grounds around the State Capitol building in downtown Madison. Every Saturday from mid-April through early November, some 160 vendors set up shop around the Square for the nation's largest producers-only farmers market — that is, a market where every product sold is produced by the people selling it. Everything sold also must be grown or made in Wisconsin: "Even though Illinois is just 59 miles away, they can't come in," says market manager Larry Johnson, because the 35-year-old market proudly offers only home-state delicacies.
"We have bakers, we have fresh vegetables, fresh fruits, honey, all different kinds of meat," says Johnson. And of course, this being Wisconsin, a dizzying array of dairy: "The cheese is world-class and everybody has a specialty." While farmers pack the Capitol grounds, an adjacent lot is dedicated to arts and crafts vendors and concession stands, and a changing cast of street musicians perform along the streets bounding the Square.
A smaller market operates near the city government center on Wednesday mornings in the summer market season — and even through formidable Wisconsin winters, the market carries on at alternate locations. A treasured tradition is the Winter Market Breakfast, a full meal made strictly from farmers' market products and offered first-come-first-served for the bargain price of $7 from 8:30 to 11 a.m. (or until the food runs out).
"We love the market and try to go as many Saturdays as possible," says Keith Symonds, an avid home chef and host of the "Beerpocalypse Now!" beer tasting program on Madison local access TV. Symonds' hints for prowling the Square like a regular: "The 'serious' locals arrive between 8 and 9 a.m. and after that come the tourists so you can run into gridlock if you are actually trying to shop." Stop in early at Stella's Bakery, which will sell hundreds of loaves of its signature Hot & Spicy Cheese Bread on a good market day. And when strolling at any hour, Symonds says, remember: "Foot traffic around the Capitol is always counter-clockwise, and newbies who try to walk against traffic will be gently advised to go the other way — honest!"
Summer Saturdays: Capitol Square, 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. April 16-Nov. 5, 2011
Summer Wednesdays: 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. April 20-Nov. 2, 2011, 200 block of Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.
Early Winter Saturdays: 7:30 a.m. to noon Nov. 12-Dec. 17, 2011, MononaTerrace Community and Convention Center (One John Nolen Dr.).
Late Winter Saturdays: 8:00 a.m. to noon, January to mid-April, 2012, Madison Senior Center (330 W. Mifflin St.).
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