50 years of the Dane County Farmers’ Market


Late summer’s harvest. | Photo by @explore_madison

Table of Contents

Grab your shopping tote because we’re strolling through the history of the Dane County Farmers’ Market in honor of its 50th year — officially this September — and return to the square this Sat., April 16.

Planting the seeds

The market was founded by Bill Dyke — Madison’s mayor at the time. In an effort to bring the county’s urban and rural areas together, Dyke looked to the European open-air markets as a model for Madison. With support from the Dane County Extension Office and the Central Madison Committee of the Chamber of Commerce, the first market in 1972 had just 5 vendors.

By 1974, the demand for vendor spots started on Friday nights + led to the issuing of season passes. The only rule of the market (and still the only rule) — all products must be Wisconsin grown or made.

Full bloom

Today, the Dane County Farmers’ Market is the largest producer-only farmers’ market in the United States and is run by the Dane County Farmers’ Market co-op. You can find goods year-round at its market variations:

Count your veggies

  • Over 275+ vendors sell throughout the year, with an average of 150 members every Saturday.
  • Vendors have memberships to sell at the market, with a five-year waitlist for those who want to bring farm-fresh goodness on Saturdays.
  • Many vendors arrive at 5 a.m. to start setting up for the 6:15 a.m.-1:45 p.m. Saturday market. And, it’s a surprise as to what vendors appear each week.

April’s harvest

If you’re heading to the market this weekend, plan ahead on what to do with your Wisconsin goodness.

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