Monday, August 23, 2010

Want the Largest Farmer's Market in America? Head to Madison.

Most people think the largest farmer’s market is somewhere in California. Or perhaps New York City. But it’s not.

The largest farmer’s market sits in the center of the country, smack dab in the middle of one of its most interesting cities: Madison, Wisconsin.

And the setting actually makes sense because the Dane County Farmer’s Market is surrounded by the largest concentration of organic farms in the country which means there’s plenty of tasty produce and food products from which to choose.

But small scale and organic farmers aren’t the only vendors filling the wide sidewalks that circle Wisconsin’s towering capitol building (which is just a few feet shorter than the U.S. Capitol after which it was modeled). Hmong and Swedish farmers, venison and grass-fed beef vendors, and dozens of other food producers fill the block.

Held on Saturdays from April through November (when it’s much reduced in size and moves indoors), the market boasts over 300 vendors, with around 150 participating during the weekly market.

Farmers markets have become so trendy that some less authentic versions and, well, unsavory vendors have gotten into the game. (Telltale signs?—bananas, out of season fruits and veggies, or perfectly packaged items.) Thankfully, Madison’s farmer’s market prohibits re-selling. If it’s for sale at the market, then it was grown or made in Wisconsin.

Market days resemble a giant outdoor party more than a market. Corn on the cob, tacos, pad thai, gyros, and many other prepared foods can be purchased from food carts. Sometimes there’s even beer (this is Wisconsin, after all.)

While foodies might swoon or stumble given the incredible array of fresh produce, flowers and locally-crafted food, they just need to be sure to follow one rule: move counter-clockwise.

That’s right. Given the enormous flow of pedestrian traffic at this mega-market, everyone walks around the Capitol Square in a counter-clockwise direction.

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