What it’s like to shop at the new, drive-thru Dane County Farmers’ Market

Navigating the 'new normal' with ease

MADISON, Wis.– The country’s largest producer-only market has traded in the Capitol Square for the Alliant Energy Center’s Willow Island. Although just 20 Dane County Farmers’ Market vendors are participating right now, compared to the upwards of 180 on a typical Saturday, market manager Sarah Elliot is working to grow that number.

She says the county is still working to figure out how many vendors this new system can handle, but more are interested.

“Moving forward, customers will start to see a different set of vendors on Wednesday and Saturday,” said Elliot.

Already-participating vendors say they’re thankful local shoppers continue to prioritize local produce and provide them with a steady stream of revenue.

The new drive-up market, held every Wednesday and Saturday, requires some extra planning for shoppers. Customers place their orders at least a day in advance online, and then drive to pick them up between 3 and 6 p.m. on Wednesdays or between 8 a.m. and noon on Saturdays. Elliot recommends customers choose  just one day to shop. Some vendors sell out, so this allows more people a chance to buy local.

If you’re only buying from one vendor, Elliot suggests connecting with them directly. Many are coordinating pickup outside of posted market hours. You can find vendor contact information here.

“It is so important to have a strong, resilient local food system,” said Elliot. “Our farmers are going to continue to grow and raise food and we all need to eat.”

Planning your visit? Elliot says customers should keep three things in mind:

  1. Get your orders in early. Dane County opens its online marketplace on Mondays and often has to close it before noon on Tuesday because of an abundance of orders. Be patient. Elliot suggests that if you aren’t able to place an order for Wednesday, try again for Saturday.
  2. Ask a friend for their order. The new market system is limited to a certain number of vehicles, not orders. If you have a friend who also loves the farmers’ market, Elliot suggests you offer to pick-up their order too.
  3. Leave yourself time. Remember that it takes about 45 minutes to walk all the way around the Square during the outdoor market. It will take time to navigate the new market, too. Elliot recommends putting on your favorite podcast to pass the time.

One other change from the usual market: there is a 5% fee to pick up your food. That’s $5 on a $100 order. Elliot says you should consider that similar to the cost of having your groceries ready for curb-side pick-up. This fee supports the use of the new online “What’s good” platform and the market doesn’t receive any of it.

This system is the market’s “new normal” for the foreseeable future. In order for the market to move back to the square, Elliot says the State of Wisconsin needs to reinstate their permit. Then, market managers would continue to work closely with Public Health Madison-Dane County to create a system that is safe for both customers and vendors.