Much of the fun and intrigue of attending the Dane County Farmers’ Market is getting to walk around and browse different stands, eyeing up all the different fresh produce and interacting with the more than 60 local vendors who each have their own stories to tell.
The market (DCFM) has been running since 1972, giving it a long history of connecting the public with local Wisconsin family farmers and small food businesses. But this year, as with everything else during the coronavirus pandemic, things are a little different.
Following a test run at Garver Feed Mill, the DCFM has operated a pickup program on Willow Island at the Alliant Energy Center in Madison. It began in late April, around when the season would usually begin at the Capitol Square. Customers can pre-order their items and pick them up via drive-thru on Wednesdays and Saturdays.
Regularly conferring with the Wisconsin Capitol Police, Public Health Madison & Dane County and others, market officials hoped they might be able to re-open at the Square with precautionary measures. But in July, after the DCFM’s license there was officially revoked for 2020, market manager Sarah Elliott says “piloting the addition of a walk-up market was the next logical step in trying to meet the needs of both our customers and our vendors in a manner that is safe.”The Saturday walk-up option at Willow Island, which began last week, is open from 9:30 a.m.-1 p.m. Customers who order ahead of time can pick-up on foot during this time, or by drive-thru from 7-9 a.m. These pre-orders can be made online from 10 a.m. on Sundays until 5 p.m. on Thursdays. (The Wednesday pickup program runs from 3-6 p.m., with the pre-order online store open from 10 a.m. Sundays to noon Tuesdays.)
The DCFM hopes the new walk-up option will bring back some of the energy of a normal visit to the Square. This is true by at least one measure: the number of vendors has increased to about 60, up from about 35 during drive-thru only.
“We understand that different people make different decisions based upon their own unique situations and preferences,” Elliott says. “By offering both the drive-thru and walk-up model, we hope that more customers will shop at the market.”
Safety is still paramount, of course, and there’s a stringent “Safe Shopper Code of Conduct” for everyone who attends the walk-up option. Elliott says she was grateful to see so many shoppers adhering to these new rules at the first walk-up day on Aug. 1. Some of the directives include limiting the number of people shopping for each household, wearing a mask, maintaining social distance, and bringing smaller bills to avoid excessive hand-to-hand contact.
“People value buying directly from our family farmers and understand that no matter where the market is held — where you have to park, whether you have to wear a mask — that shopping the market is worth it,” says Elliott. “It’s worth it because of the unique products that you’ll find, what you’ll learn from the small conversations that you’ll have with our growers, and the joy and nourishment that comes from fresh local foods.”