The wait is over for new farmers' market vendors

Amanda Finn
The Wisconsin State Journal (TNS)
A cooperative of farmers and other ag producers operate the Dane County Farmers’ Market in Madison.

Becoming a vendor at the Dane County Farmers’ Market (DCFM) is serious business.

It can mean years of patiently sitting on a waitlist hoping to make their way into the DCFM.

Belle Pleva of Paleo Mama Bakery, a gluten- and grain-free paleo bakery, put her business on the waitlist not long after she opened. She hoped she wouldn’t be waiting five to seven years as she had been warned and luckily only had to wait three.

She said she’s done the Sun Prairie and Fitchburg farmers’ markets and her customers have been asking for a long time when DCFM on Saturdays would be on her agenda. Now, as of this year, she can finally say she’ll be there.

A scene from the Dane County Farmers Market in Madison, Wis.

As a niche business, Pleva sees the market as an excellent opportunity to try out some new recipes she doesn’t make for wholesaling.

“We aren’t making new products every day and offering them so it’s an opportunity to try things out,” she said. “We have a few things in mind that we don’t offer in stores and won’t offer in stores. A lot of customers will be happy about that.”

So far Pleva predicts Paleo Mama will have cupcakes, muffins, tortillas and doughnuts among the new products available at DCFM. Ideally the doughnut varieties will vary week by week.

Getting the chance to experience the massive Saturday market is exciting for Pleva as she has been a guest of the market with her own family and enjoyed it as a college student as well.

The Dane County Farmers Market is reported to be the largest producer-only farmers market in the country.

Paleo Mama will also play well into part of the market atmosphere of visitors wanting something to snack on while they’re perusing the rest of the market.

“People are glad to have options available (at the market) so they don’t have to go out of their way if they or their kids get hungry,” Pleva said.

Not every new DCFM vendor is clamoring for a spot at the Saturday table.

For David Bachhuber of Lovefood LLC., it’s the Wednesday DCFM market and the winter markets he is jazzed to be part of. After four years his farm is finally off the waitlist.

The former research program manager for UW-Madison’s psychology and neuroscience lab ventured into farming as a means to feed the people he cares about and Lovefood is still deeply rooted in that mission. Which makes the large Saturday market not the ideal venue for them — at least at the moment.

It’s not inconceivable that Lovefood could go to the Saturday market at some point, just not right now, Bachhuber said.

Established in 1972, the Dane County Farmers' Market is the jewel in Madison, Wis.'s culinary crown. In winter the market convenes indoors with breakfast every Saturday prepared by local chefs using local ingredients. In summer, the market sprawls out in all directions from the Capitol Square.

Lovefood has a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) with Saturday farmers’ market pickups and by attending the Wednesday market they’re still able to provide CSA shares to their customers while not giving up the opportunity to speak to them.

“For us, there is a lot to be said for having interpersonal relationships that a CSA offers to keep us motivated,” Bachhuber said. “There’s no confusion about why you’re growing or who you’re giving it to. You have these long-lasting relationships. I love that. That’s why we do market pick up. We can talk to people every week. If there are any issues we know right away. Those conversations each week are valuable.”

Hopping off of the DCFM wait list is just part of the big year ahead for Lovefood.
They’re in the process of buying 30 acres of land in Stoughton which is a major step from the one acre of rented land they currently use in Madison.

The farm grows organic vegetables as well as culinary herbs. While they have been vendors at two area farmers’ markets in the past and have their CSA, they also grow herbs for upscale area restaurants and grocery stores.

Bachhuber said they grow the “usual” things like tomatoes, greens, kale and chard in addition to herbs like garlic, horseradish, ginger and turmeric.

The Dane County Farmers Market packs Madison's Capitol Square with vendors and visitors on Saturdays in the summer.

Although the Wednesday market does not have nearly as many attendees it also doesn’t have as many vendors vying for the attention of the visitors. Which means Lovefood can “bring a whole line up and be confident,” according to Bachhuber.

Pleva hopes for a similar excitement about her products because she has something much different than the other offerings around the market. People can purchase her goods in 30 different stores between Wisconsin and Illinois, but only those who stop by the market can enjoy additional Paleo Mama products.

This is a chance for people who might not have ever purchased Paleo Mama products to try them, Pleva said.

And Bachhuber isn’t intimidated by vendors who sell the popular on-the-go snacks at farmers’ markets. In fact he sees that aspect of any farmers’ market to be one of the joys of being there.

“I think part of the deal with any market is that it’s fun and great to get a cup of coffee and a pastry and talk with friends and just walk around,” Bachhuber said. “I think there’s a lot to be said for that.”