The Dane Coun­ty Farm­ers’ Mar­ket did­n’t become Amer­i­ca’s largest pro­duc­ers-only farm­ers’ mar­ket overnight. It’s tak­en over four decades of tasty food, hard work, per­se­ver­ance, humor, and even a lit­tle luck. 


Start of the Dane Coun­ty Farm­ers’ Market

Dane Coun­ty is rich in both rur­al and urban cul­ture. In 1972, May­or Bill Dyke rec­og­nized a need to unite the two cul­tures and pro­vide a means for city dwellers to reap some of the county’s agri­cul­tur­al benefits.

Inspired by Europe’s open mar­kets, Dyke called on the Dane Coun­ty Exten­sion Office and the Cen­tral Madi­son Com­mit­tee of the Cham­ber of Com­merce to help him repli­cate the Euro­pean tra­di­tion. The three agen­cies joined forces to devel­op the Dane Coun­ty Farm­ers’ Market.

How­ev­er, coun­ty farm­ers were ahead of the game. Gro­cery store and mall park­ing lots, gas sta­tions and heavy traf­fic cor­ners were pop­u­lar bar­ter­ing grounds. The agen­cies hired Dane Coun­ty farmer Jonathan Bar­ry as the first Farm­ers’ Mar­ket man­ag­er. He formed a grow­er advi­so­ry com­mit­tee to help give some direc­tion to the new­ly formed Farm­ers’ Market.

The grounds sur­round­ing the State Capi­tol are an ide­al site to host the mar­ket. The mag­nif­i­cent land­scape and stun­ning archi­tec­ture serve as a spec­tac­u­lar back­drop to Dane County’s most cel­e­brat­ed event.

In the ear­ly years, farm­ers relied on the Cham­ber of Com­merce and the oth­er two agen­cies for finan­cial sup­port and advice. Every Sat­ur­day morn­ing, the farm­ers paid a small fee to sell their goods.

On the first Sat­ur­day in 1972, eager buy­ers set out to the square with the hopes of load­ing their bags, wag­ons and crafts with nature’s gifts, only to find just five farm­ers and their wares. But by 1973, farm­ers by the dozens parked overnight to secure the best spot on the Square. In 1974, Bar­ry issued sea­son pass­es for the stalls in an effort to orga­nize the grow­ing Farm­ers’ Mar­ket. The only rule then, and one still enforced today, is that prod­ucts must be Wis­con­sin grown.

The Mar­ket has under­gone tremen­dous change since 1972 due to the efforts of the sev­en indi­vid­u­als who have served as mar­ket man­agers. Today, pro­duc­ers are mem­bers of an orga­nized co-op with nine elect­ed mem­bers who serve on the Board of Directors.

Addi­tions to the Sat­ur­day morn­ing mar­ket include 1) a Wednes­day morn­ing Mar­ket, held on the 200 block of Mar­tin Luther King Jr. Boule­vard, 2) an Ear­ly Win­ter Mar­ket, held in the Monona Ter­race Con­ven­tion Cen­ter, and 3) a Late Win­ter Market. 

Both the Wednes­day and Sat­ur­day Mar­kets run from mid April to ear­ly Novem­ber. Hours on Sat­ur­days are from 6:15 a.m. to 1:45 p.m. and on Wednes­days from 8:30 a.m. until 1:45 p.m. Times and dates for the Win­ter Mar­kets vary. 

Although the Mar­ket con­stant­ly under­goes change, those respon­si­ble keep in mind that the mis­sion of the Dane Coun­ty Farm­ers’ Mar­ket is pri­mar­i­ly to unite the urban and the rur­al cul­tures. Whether you are young or old, the Mar­ket is an event like no oth­er. The ener­gy and enthu­si­asm that flows around the square from dawn until mid-after­noon con­firm the Mar­ket’ success!