As more farmers’ markets open – what’s next for Dane County?

BELOIT, Wis. – For the second week, the Beloit Farmers’ Market opened for customers in the city’s downtown.

Unlike years past, where the market hosted 100 vendors and drew daily crowds of up to 10,000, Saturday featured just 27 vendors with a 200 person crowd maximum.

“We’re super excited that we can just have the event, even though we have to keep it to a smaller number,” said Malinda Obershaw, Vice Chair of the Downtown Beloit Association.

The market opened later than usual due to a COVID-19 concentration in the Beloit area. Now, those in charge are hopeful a decrease in cases is a positive sign moving forward.

“We’re hoping the restrictions don’t have to be in place all summer,” said Shauna El-Amin, Executive Director of the Downtown Beloit Association. “And we can slowly let in more people and more vendors.”

This week, Rock County moved to its second phase of reopening. On Monday, Dane County will join in the second phase. Yet that doesn’t mean the Dane County Farmers’ Market will be coming back to the Capitol Square anytime soon.

“The reality of our situation is that the state of Wisconsin has not reissued the permit for the capitol square,” said Market Manager Sarah Elliott. “We are well aware of the safety and precautionary measures that would be necessary in order to reopen a market, but we can’t take those steps until the state is willing to issue our permit.”

For weeks, the Dane County market has allowed drive through pickup for goods at the Alliant Energy Center. Elliott says with three local pickups, roughly 1000 customers a week support 65 farmers.

“I think one of the silver linings to the pandemic is that we have seen a lot of consumers and members of our community that are more engaged with consuming locally,” Elliott said.

Yet Elliott says as Dane County continues to open, that doesn’t impact the return of the market to the square. She says the return relies solely on a permit being issued by the state.

“At this point in time we have not had any clear indication that (the state) doesn’t intend to (issue a permit),” Elliott said. “It’s considered suspended right now, but we will continue to work with the state and the other stakeholders to see when we would be able to reopen.”