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  Farmers Market Thoughts

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About a year ago I was at a concert on the capitol square in Madison when one of the band members joked that they had heard about the famous Dane County Farmers Market and that the crowds were so big that “you just had to lift your feet up off the ground and the crowd would carry you around the square.” The Dane County Farmers Market in Madison is the largest producers only farmers market in the nation, and having gone many times during my six years of living in Madison, I can attest to the size of the crowds. It’s the place where people take their visiting friends in the summer, and is often ranked one of the top things to do in Madison. However, some farmers are beginning to question whether or not these increased crowds are benefitting them as well.

The market has become as much a tourist attraction as anything else, and many folks will show up to walk around the square, admire the stands of fresh produce the farmers have grown and harvested, and then proceed to buy a cup of coffee and perhaps a roll, and head home or out to a late brunch. I’ve certainly been guilty of it. And there is nothing wrong with that, per se. Local businesses do well thanks to the influx of people and many of the produce stands do well too. Lots of farmers at the Dane County Farmers Market have a loyal following and they come back to sell week after week and year after year for a reason. But I’ve talked to more than a few people who have sought out other farmers markets to buy their produce or who have chosen to buy their produce at the grocery store or co-op because it’s just so packed on market days that attending has become more of an inconvenience than anything else.

It’s hard to say whether or not the increased number of attendees and the money they spend at farmers’ stands outweighs the loss in revenue from regular customers no longer attending the market, and it probably varies farmer to farmer. The Dane County Farmers Market as a whole will continue to thrive and I’m still a huge fan of it. It affords lots of farmers the opportunity to sell directly to consumers, creating a connection to our food and those who grow it. More exposure for local farmers is great too, but when it comes down to it they will only stay in business if people buy their produce. I’m not trying to guilt anyone into going out and buying a whole bunch of lettuce next Saturday at your local farmers market, but rather to open up a dialogue about the future of local food and the best way we can keep family farmers on the land and how the growing popularity of farmers markets can help but also hinder beginning and established farmers.

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Sunday, September 25th – Fall Work Day
Saturday, November 5th - Harvest Dinner

To be a sustainable farm that provides for the land, the farmers, and a community committed to connecting to their source of food and eachother.

• share in the work to create a farm that is economically, environmentally, and socially sustainable;
• share the risk and share the bounty;
• make decisions together;
• ensure that the size of the farm holds in balance considerations of land, community, and farm viability;
• work together to nurture a friendly and creative community.