MA Road Trip: This Piggy Goes to (Madison) Market

In his 2004 article, the now-deceased New York Times correspondent R.W. "Johnny" Apple described the Dane County Farmers' Market in Madison, Wis., as "a honey of a farmers' market."

I disagree. The Dane County Farmers' Market is the Mac Daddy -- no, scratch that thought -- it's the Mac Mama of all farm markets.

For years, I have wanted to experience a Saturday morning at the largest producer-only farm market in the country, but I really had no idea my mouth would be hanging open in awe and amazement. I felt like I had died, gone to farm market heaven and met La Terra Madre.

I had arrived just before 8 a.m, and the market was already well underway, 200 hundred-some producers and their canopied stands dotting the perimeter of the state capitol building. By 9 a.m., the capitol square (a certifiable square city block) was wall-to-wall people waking up to the day, some with coffee in hand, others wheeling strollers. From stand to stand they strolled, filling their reuseable bags with local corn and beans, early apples and late raspberries, cheese curds, bison and rainbow trout. With the sounds of violins and fiddles and washboards filling the air at nearly every corner, the market felt more like a party than a mercantile exchange.

Along with the celebratory, easy-going vibe (no rushing, pushing or badmouthing to be seen or heard) was a serious intensity with a higher purpose: This was the time to stock the weekly larder, an important and regular part of the routine. It might feel like a party, y'all, but there was important work to be done. This duality may just be the most magical thing about Dane County Farmers' Market -- these people take their food shopping (and selling) seriously, but have a great time doing it.

Below, a sampler of visuals, which tell the story....

Look at these gorgeous gooseberries! The same farmer also grew cherry plums, a curious hybrid -- plum-like skin but sour cherry flesh and flavor. (Kim O'Donnel)

Just one example of creative signage. (Kim O'Donnel)

The nourishment of all of Mother Nature's creatures, wings included, are considered. (Kim O'Donnel)

...As are the rights of all living things... (Kim O'Donnel)

...And then there's the cast of characters... (Kim O'Donnel)

P.S. I'll be back -- and I already can't wait.

This morning, I'm headed to Des Moines, where I'll be checking out the Iowa State Fair and teaching a cooking class.

By Kim ODonnel |  August 11, 2008; 12:00 PM ET MA on the Road , Travel
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It looks and sounds like you're having a blast! Enjoy your journey!

Posted by: Southern Gal | August 11, 2008 2:13 PM

Love the photos! Thanks for letting us in on the scene. Happy travels, Kim.

Posted by: MMcG | August 11, 2008 2:18 PM

I'm glad you enjoyed your morning in Madison! I actually bought two quarts of those cherry plums and spent Saturday afternoon making jam with them. I made gooseberry jam a few weeks ago, and while it was delicious, getting the stems off of them was a royal pain. Well, I hope you come back to Madison some time!

Posted by: Phoebe | August 11, 2008 6:18 PM

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