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Madison Monday

Madison Monday: I love our farmer’s market

By July 26, 20112 Comments
I should really probably give up and call this Madison Monday-ish, but whatever. I kind of find it hard to believe that I haven’t written about the Madison Farmer’s Market before, being a big local foodie person. It’s been a busy summer, so the spousal unit and I have not been hitting the farmer’s market as often as usual. We decided to wait until the summer hit its absolute peak of heat and humidity, and that was this Saturday.
Also, as you can see from the pictures, there was art in progress at the farmer’s market this Saturday. The final day of the lovely art camp put on by Galatea’s Art Supplies is plein air painting at the farmer’s market. I think it was this fact alone that sold my stepdaughter on the art camp, and can you blame her? Painting with an audience? Very cool, though this particular Saturday, also very hot.

Madison has a long history of farmer’s markets. My friend who is the walking encyclopedia of Madison history could tell you all about it. I do know that the building now called the Trolley Barn, which is now home to our local sushi (Sakka Blue) restaurant and soon, a new brewery (The Pub), at one point housed an indoor farmer’s market. It was just one of many locations for farmer’s markets around Madison over the years. Older farmers will tell you about the farmer’s market that used to be down around the courthouse that was largely a commercial market–farmers were selling to grocery stores more than to individual members of the public. Now, at least in Madison, it’s an uphill battle as a local farmer to sell your produce to local grocery stores or restaurants, which says a lot about how very screwed up our food system has become.

When I first came to Madison, the farmer’s market was again in front of the courthouse. The revival of the market in its current form is mostly due to the efforts of our current clerk-treasurer, former neighbor and good friend Dave Adams. Look at these beautiful pictures of the market in its current location at the Broadway fountain and tell me that we Madisonians should not all be incredibly grateful to Dave for helping to bring this into our community.

I am a lover of farmer’s markets. Whenever I go somewhere, farmer’s markets are the first thing I look for, because if you want some really good food, they are often the place to go. Best farmer’s market I’ve ever been to (so far)…Portland, Oregon. Oh…my…god. The market went on for blocks. There was music, bread, cheese. Tomatoes (you know how I feel about them), and fresh local berries to die for. My husband and I bought some french bread, some local cheese, and a quart of raspberries and took them with us to eat in a park along the river. That was the best meal we had during the whole trip, and there’s some damn good eating in Portland.

When I came home that summer, it was hard, because our farmer’s market is not quite there yet. But it’s making leaps and bounds forward, especially given that we’re just a town of 15,000 or so. We now have music. We have bread, some of it baked by our friends at the 605 Grille. We have artistes, as you can see. Locally made soap and locally made doggy treats. We have music, and you can get an omelet or some pancakes from the folks at Paradise Cove Catering, and more recently, you can get bagels or pizza from the folks at PiePie’s pizza. This Saturday, the folks from the Clearinghouse (an organization that would centrally locate social services for the underprivileged in Jefferson County all under one roof) were also at the market having a yard sale, where we purchased some lovely shades for our bedroom.

A farmer’s market combines many of my very favorite things in the world…people, food, public spaces, and often, music. A successful farmer’s market becomes a vibrant public space for people in the community. You can talk to the people who grow and cook your food. On a good Saturday in Madison, you can see almost everyone you know at the farmer’s market. And it’s crowded, which let me share with you a little secret of urban sociology, is actually a good thing when it comes to public spaces. I’ve mentioned William H. Whyte’s brilliant piece of sociology, The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces. A central truth he discovered is that what attracts people to a place is….other people. In its current location at the Broadway fountain, the farmer’s market is packed with people. Not uncomfortably packed, but there’s a crowd, and that’s good. People hear the noise of a crowd talking and music playing, and it looks like a place you want to be. And it is. If you spread that out over several blocks, it loses some of its vitality, some its oomph, some of the long forgotten joy we humans have at being close to each other. In the case of a social and public event like a farmer’s market, space is really overrated. So for now, I think the farmer’s market should stay right where it is. We’re not Portland yet, but we’re closer than we were.

For more beautiful pictures of our farmer’s market (taken by a much better photographer than me) check out this link.


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