Farmers Markets

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Michelle Phillips

When I was in college I had a large garden and sold veggies and all natural personal care items like soap, salve, insect repellant, etc. at the local farmers market. The market was in the Drake neighborhood in Des Moines and had only about 25-30 vendors, at the most, on any given Wednesday. My friends would all go downtown on Saturday for the massive market, not unlike downtown Madison. But I was content at the tiny market.

I get anxious in a large crowd of people, which also hinders me from engaging in public speaking. Because of this uneasiness in crowds, I almost never go to the downtown Madison market. I went to one winter market at the Garver Feed Mill with my husband, Matt, who is fine with the massive markets and often goes by himself.

Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the selection and abundance at the larger markets, but the small ones feel more like home.

Ever since I complied a story on farmers markets in the area, I have been waiting with anticipation for the smaller markets for open, particularly Middleton’s Greenway Station Farmers Market. A couple of years ago when I was commuting from Cedar Rapids, IA to Middleton each week, I happened upon the Greenway Station Market when I was going to my hotel on Deming Way.

I went to the downtown Middleton market as well, and appreciated the option of going twice in a week. That was the only year it was in operation since I landed in Dane County, and I do miss the option of two markets in Middleton.

Last year, I was also frequenting the Monroe Street Farmers market because it is on Sunday and I can space the food purchases out. When I picked up groceries the woman loading them in the car told me about the Monona Farmers Market, which I also plan to check out this year.

I prefer the quiet intimacy of the small markets. I feel that each on has its own charm and vibe. Of course right now, the markets are not the same as usual years. There is no live music, no prepared food and everyone is wearing a masks, there were clear paths and perimeters, hand sanitizer was in abundance and items were prepacked or packed by the vendor.

Some of my friends were not especially on board with the idea of going to the farmers market during a pandemic, and I got a couple of messages of concern about my sanity for venturing to the market. I felt much safer going to the farmers market than I do at the grocery store, or a big box store.

First, it is open air, which we now know has a lower rate for COVID-19 contraction. Second, the details of the market were well thought out and had clear signage. Third, all but two people (customers) had masks on and are taking the virus seriously. When I went to the grocery store, two employees were improperly wearing their masks and a third had none and many of the customers were unmasked. Fourth, and lastly, I prefer to give my money directly to the farmer. Living in Iowa and covering agriculture opened my eyes to the small percentage of the retail cost the farmers were getting. When I buy pork chops, eggs, veggies, whatever, from a farmer, I am helping support their living. Plus the food is fresher.

I like to frequent several markets because they have different vendors. I find there are different specialty vendors depending on where you go. In Middleton you can get pickled veggies, at Monroe Street you’ll find tortillas and sope shells and so on. If one doesn’t have chicken or spinach, another might.

My hope this summer is to buy all of my food from local farmers markets. Even if you can’t or don’t buy all your food items at a farmers market, at least get out and give the Greenway Station Farmers Market, as well as others in the area, a try. Your local farmers will thank you for it.

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