This Indoor Market Is a Big Winter Win for Farmers and Customers

UP NORTH NEWS |

Newly relocated Madison attraction is an economic boost for growers

The Dane County Farmers’ Market is the country’s largest produce-only market with some 265 vendors and crowds of roughly 20,000 weekly. Located around the Capitol Square in downtown Madison in spring, summer and fall, it is a big draw for locals and tourists alike. Locals joke that market newbies quickly stand out for trying to walk clockwise among the sea of seasoned shoppers.

Every winter since the early 1990’s, this massive market morphs into a small version of itself and heads indoors. First it spent a few weeks at Monona Terrace, then it was based at the Madison Senior Center from January through April. This year, it has found a new permanent winter home at the recently renovated Garver Feed Mill on Madison’s East Side.

The change is proving a boon for farmers.

The weekly Saturday winter market opened the doors at its new location on Jan. 4. Roughly 45 farmers set up shop and 4,000 people attended, an upgrade from the 20 to 25 vendors the Senior Center could accommodate and the roughly 500 people who attended.

On each subsequent Saturday, attendance is holding steady around 2,000, said Sarah Elliott, the market’s manager.

“Our fundamental goal is really to ensure that small family farms remain economically viable and they need customers to do that, especially in the off season,” Elliott said. “So having this lovely, cheerful crowd come is really important to them being able to stay in business and continue to be small family farms.”

Leroy and Cindy Fricke own Cherokee Bison Farms near Colby, a roughly 160-mile drive to Madison. Leroy says he has been raising American bison since 1989. He sells New York stripes, top sirloin, stew cubes, bison bacon, jerky and maple syrup. His top sellers are the bison burger patties and bison sausage.

Since the switch from the Senior Center, he said his sales have been up 25 percent, “and that is a conservative estimate.”

“It is still early in the season but it is looking very promising,” Fricke said. “It is a different crowd, younger people, more families.”

A few rows over from Fricke’s booth, Kim Jakubowski with Westridge Farms near Blue River, has set up her booth. She is selling certified organic, grass-fed beef, eggs, yellow and red storage onions, red Russian kale microgreens, arugula, grass-fed beef and eggs.

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