by Lisa Lozano
Every Friday, we’re letting you know what is fresh and in season in a different part of the U.S. by spotlighting a unique regional farmers market.
This week, we’re privileged to speak with Bill Lubing, the manager of the Dane County Farmers’ Market, one of the largest and most well-known markets in the country.
Bill shares that his market, which is held in summer months on the square surrounding the State Capitol building in Madison, Wisconsin, has up to 160 farmers selling at the same time, with up to 20,000 visitors in one day. He shares, “We’re the biggest, and also the biggest producers-only farmers market in Wisconsin and probably one of the biggest in the country.”
Below are some highlights from our conversation.
On what’s in season now:
“We started out with watercress and ramps and they gave way to morels and asparagus. The asparagus is still going … and now we have a lot of mushrooms, strawberries, garlic scapes, green garlic, green onions, early broccoli. And the other thing that’s finishing up is that there are onions, carrots and similar items that were over-wintered,” says Bill, who reveals that spinach and new potatoes are also available.
On what makes the market unique:
“We’re a member-operated market. When the market first started it was run by the city of Madison but they turned it over to the people who were doing the selling. So it’s a little bit like a co-op, you need to join and once you’re a member, you get one vote, and that’s what guides the market. … We have a waiting list of 5-7 years with almost 100 people on the list.”
On the remarkable innovations of local farmers at the Winter Market, held indoors during winter months:
“You wouldn’t think that in Wisconsin there would really be that much that would be available in wintertime [because] it gets to be 20-30 degrees below zero and the snow is three feet on the ground. But the farmers have done a remarkable job of innovating using hoop houses and other technology, and actually, January and February is when you can get some of the best spinach of the year in Wisconsin. It’s what we call frost-sweetened Spinach. People don’t realize that spinach will actually survive to about 18 degrees. And when it gets that cold, it generates natural sugar which acts as an antifreeze. So you get this beautiful, beautiful spinach in the wintertime.”
On how the farmers inspire him:
“It’s a very exciting thing to be [involved with]. I don’t come from a farming background at all, I come from publishing myself, and having gotten involved with this farmer’s market, it’s like, ‘Wow! These are the most entrepreneurial, hard-working people that I’ve ever met!’ Half the time, they’re not making any money on the farm. Somebody’s working off the farm because they need to pay for the insurance and to keep the truck running and everything else, and they do this because they love it. And it’s like, ‘Really, you love getting up at 4:30 in the morning and slogging through the rain and driving three hours to get to Madison, and getting rained out?’ And they’re like, ‘Well, you know…’ Or they lose all their crops and they’re like, ‘Well, we’ll plant next year.’
To learn more about the farmers market, visit www.dcfm.org.
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