8 Dane County Farmers’ Market favorites you can still enjoy this year
With the Dane County Farmers’ Market canceled on Capitol Square, we’re forced to find other ways to support Wisconsin farmers.
Quarantine has me missing the shoulder-to-shoulder, tote-bag-to-tote-bag sea of farmers’ market patrons. I can still imagine what it’s like having a stroller rammed into my left calf. Or having my right arm pulled by a cousin who wants Stella’s Bakery’s hot and spicy cheese bread. I even miss the slow shuffle and quick darting I have to do to get to the stands I want to buy from. In this hullabaloo it can be hard if not impossible to connect with the people who create our food. But as we now know, slowing down is worth it. With the Dane County Farmers’ Market canceled on Capitol Square, we’re forced to find other ways to support Wisconsin farmers. Local food can still be found by shopping smaller, neighborhood markets, buying directly from farms and ordering via the WhatsGood app for pick-ups at the Alliant Energy Center’s Willow Island. There is also a walk-through market on Saturdays at Willow Island if you want to shop in person. Beyond that, many favorite vendors are finding other ways for customers to get fresh food. For a full list of how to support DCFM vendors, click here.
Alsum Sweet Corn
“My dad started raising sweet corn [in] 1976, when I was 12,” says Scott Alsum of Alsum Sweet Corn. This year marks the Alsum family’s 44th season at the Saturday market. “We’re a family-run business,” Alsum says. Wife Lona manages the books and processing plant while sons Ben and Levi help farm. They grow 100 acres of sweet corn and 80 acres of squash and pumpkins near Randolph, Wisconsin. The family is committed to sustainable farming practices. “We try to take care of the land and the people around us as best we can,” Alsum says. Fresh sweet corn is available in the summer and fall, with frozen sweet corn sold throughout the year. One-pound bags of frozen sweet corn come in six varieties: bicolor, yellow, white, sweet heat with jalapeños, a pepper medley with bell peppers and a hot mix with cherry bomb peppers. Prior to COVID-19, Alsum delivered 30-50 cases of sweet corn to restaurants each week. In one month this summer, he delivered under 10 cases total. “I like working with the chefs in town — they do a lot of different things with our corn that I would never think of doing,” he says. Alsum Sweet Corn buyers include Ian’s Pizza, Salvatore’s Tomato Pies, Forage Kitchen and Heritage Tavern.
FIND THEM: When in doubt, look for the yellow stand. Alsum has farm stands in Randolph, West Bend, Saukville, Brookfield and DeForest. Also find Alsum at the Westside Community Market on Saturdays and at DCFM’s Saturday markets at Willow Island. alsumsweetcorn.com
When people visit the Capri Cheese stand at the Dane County Farmers’ Market, Felix Thalhammer likes to draw them in with a free sample or two. As he hands them a toothpick full of bright white, crumbly cheese, he slyly mentions that it’s made with goat’s milk. He blames industrial processing for the goat cheese aversion. “Some people want to know they’re eating goat cheese and some people don’t,” he says. While he’s unable to give samples this year, you can still bring home the amazing cheeses Thalhammer is known for. “The gentler you are with the milk, the better the flavor of the cheese.” Thalhammer bought goats to make milk after his son was born in 1994 with a lactose allergy. He started making fresh goat cheese with the excess milk, ultimately acquiring a small cheese factory. Each Saturday, he encourages marketgoers to try his bestselling product, a chèvre butter made with chives. It’s unclear if it’s the marketing or the product itself that makes it so popular. “In the store you can never tell the story,” says Thalhammer. “People come in knowing what they want and buy it. At the market, you start with a story.”
FIND THEM: Capri Cheese participates in the Wednesday DCFM at Willow Island and in the Northside Farmers’ Market on Sundays. Thalhammer also delivers to Madison if contacted via email at email@example.com or through text at 608-604-2640. capri-cheese.com
Chris & Lori’s Bakehouse
Lori Robson started making scones from a family recipe in 1995. She and husband Chris started selling them at DCFM in 1996, just as the scone craze hit America. The scones are baked in Chris Robson’s hometown of Poynette. Every Saturday, customers can choose from baked goods in ultra-healthy, very healthy, semi-healthy, slightly healthy and “healthy shmealthy” categories. Typically, the Robsons sell 2,000-3,000 scones in 27 varieties at each market, but during COVID-19 it’s about 1,000 scones per week. If you’re struggling to narrow it down — white chocolate raspberry and dark chocolate oat are the two most popular flavors.
FIND THEM: Walk-up orders and preorders are available at Westside Community Market and DCFM’s Saturday market at Willow Island. chrisandlorisbakehouse.com
Matthew Walter’s farm is located between Darlington and Mineral Point, about an hour southwest of Madison. It’s next door to his family’s farm, where he helped raise cattle and hogs. His wife and farming partner, Isabel Walter, grew up in Honduras where her family gardened and raised backyard livestock. The couple partnered with Jordandal Farms in 2008 before launching in 2018 their own 120-acre livestock farm, where they raise grass-finished beef and pastured pork. The farm’s name, Curiousfarmer, refers to their interest in the natural world around them. “We indulge our curiosity and learn every day,” Matthew Walter says on the farm’s website. “I’m still indulging my curiosity and hoping to never lose my sense of wonder about this amazing world.”
FIND THEM: Curiousfarmer is offering delivery every other Saturday to Madison. Email Matthew Walter at firstname.lastname@example.org to order. curiousfarmer.com
Marsden’s Pure Honey
Dale Marsden’s brother-in-law roped him into beekeeping in 1963. In 1978, he returned from the Air Force, expanded to 50 hives and has been a vendor at DCFM ever since. He sells honey in jars, bears, combs and sticks in 20 different flavors — often while wearing an iconic beehive hat. “The bees roam freely and individual flowers give the honey different flavors and colors,” he says. The kaleidoscope of flavors is the result of moving bees to different crops. Clover, wildflower and goldenrods are among the plants that grow on his farm 2 miles south of McFarland. Whenever he wants to create a new flavor, he just moves the bees. In spring, he moves them to apple orchards while their hives are developing. In fall, the bees visit pumpkin patches to produce pumpkin blossom honey. In July, he moves them to fields of blooming sunflowers. “Sometimes I take my bees up north to get the dark-flavored blue stripe honey,” Marsden says. DCFM represents more than half of Marsden’s Pure Honey sales, so COVID-19 has had a big impact on the business. “On a good day at the market I’ll sell like $1,400 or something, and a week here without doing the Dane County Market I’m selling maybe at the most $200 a week,” Marsden says.
FIND THEM: Purchase Marsden’s Honey at Eugster’s Farm Market. Marsden’s also participates in Willow Island pick-ups. Marsden delivers locally and ships honeys nationally, for a small charge. marsdensbluebeehoney.com
Henry Morren grew up down the road from his grandparents’ orchard in Michigan. “I was raised on a farm,” he says. He worked in publishing in New York for five years but says, “It was always in the back of my mind to get back into [farming].” He and his wife, Lisa Fishman, returned to the Midwest for her job in 1998, rejuvenating his love of the land. They bought a 10-acre farm 30 miles south of Madison, and Morren planted his orchard on an old hay field. The farm is now home to about 1,500 apple trees; about 100 peach trees, 75 plum trees and 50 pear trees; 1.5 acres of grapevines; and 2 acres of nursery and vegetables. He started selling fruit and trees at DCFM in 2003. The most popular market items are apples, but he also sells grapes, currants, unprocessed apple cider vinegar and cold-pressed apple cider. “I really like cider,” Morren says. “I like pressing it and fiddling with it and tweaking the flavors. There’s something unique and different each time.” He encourages marketgoers to ask about production methods and fruit varieties.
FIND THEM: Morren Orchard participates in DCFM’s pre-order markets at Willow Island on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Also find Morren’s stand at the Monroe Street Farmers’ Market on Sundays and the Eastside Farmers’ Market on Tuesdays. morrenorchardandnursery.com
Patterson Sugar Bush
The Patterson family has made maple syrup near River Falls since 1885. “My father, Dik, has memories of tapping trees and boiling sap on the farm as a kid, and of his father making maple taffy on fresh snow every winter,” says Tim Patterson, a partner of Patterson Sugar Bush. In 1988, Dik and his wife, Colleen, started Patterson Sugar Bush. Today, marketgoers can purchase certified organic granulated maple sugar, barrel-aged maple syrup or traditional maple syrup. “Our syrup has a really distinct, strong maple flavor,” Patterson says. He attributes the distinct flavor in part to the landscape and soil in northern Wisconsin, which is acidic and well-drained — favorable factors for sugar maple growth, sugar content, strong flavor and high mineral content. One of the most common questions they get is, “What’s the difference between Grade A Amber Rich and Dark Robust (formerly known as Grade B)?” Patterson says the darker syrup has a stronger flavor. Patterson Sugar Bush has four barrel-aged syrups aged in charred oak barrels. They use sorgum whiskey barrels from Old Sugar Distillery and bourbon, rye whiskey and brandy barrels from Driftless Glen Distillery. The Pattersons are taking a short break from DCFM after their daughter was born on July 11, but hope to be back in the fall.
FIND THEM: Patterson Sugar Bush is available in some stores, including Conscious Carnivore, Regent Market Co-op and Jenifer Street Market. It’s also available for delivery or pick-up at Brix Cider’s marketplace or can be delivered through Christine’s Kitchens’ marketplace. pattersonsugarbush.com
Virginia Goeke grew up in the suburbs of Chicago making sauerkraut and smoking meat in the garage with her dad. She thought that’s the way everyone cooked. She and husband John purchased 65 acres three miles outside of Viroqua in 1994. They began planting orchard trees, woodlands and wildlife habitat, fulfilling the farm’s namesake, Sylvan, which means wooded and is the name of one of her sons. Today, 90% of the land is in permanent ground cover to prevent erosion and improve soil health. “What we’re doing today is going to affect things beyond our lifetime,” she says. Grass-fed livestock, pastured pigs and sheep rotationally graze the land. In addition to selling meat, Goeke makes 20 to 24 varieties of soap with animal tallow and sells hand spun yarn dyed with plants she grows on the farm. They also have produce, fruit, flowers and sheepskins. “Our booth can be confusing for people,” Goeke says in reference to the array of products for sale. “We’re literally bringing the diversity that our farm has to the market.”
FIND THEM: Sylvan Meadows participates in DCFM’s pick-ups at Willow Island. Home delivery is available on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Items can be ordered online for home delivery. farmmatch.com/sylvanmeadowsfarm
Hannah Wente is a health communications professional who builds community through her freelance and nonprofit work.