Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Dane County Farmer's Market

This did not really start out to be a post about the Dane County Farmer's Market.

This started out to be a post about pilates.  But I had one of my ADD moments.  I couldn't write about pilates without getting sidetracked into a brief description of the Dane County Farmer's Market. Which turned into a lengthy description.  Which then turned into a lengthy description with photos. And finally it's turned into a lengthy description with photos, and ads for recommended reading through my Amazon associates links.

And yes, pilates and the Dane County Farmer's Market are related, but you'll have to wait until I do the pilates post later to get the segue.

Memories of walking around the Capitol Square in Madison during the Dane County Farmer's Market is one of the most sensory rich experiences of my adult life.  I realize that probably sounds extreme.  It sounds extreme even to me.  But the colors, textures, sights, smells and tastes are truly amazing.

The Wisconsin State Capitol is located at nearly the center of an isthmus of land (is that redundant?  ought I to say, simply, isthmus?) between two of Madison's four lakes.  The isthmus runs from the northeast to the southwest and is at narrowest about ten blocks wide.  The streets that compose most of these blocks are oriented to coincide with the diagonal direction of the isthmus.  But (probably because of the high percentage of German immigrants who settled Wisconsin and who have a somewhat compulsive sense of orderliness) the original planners of the city could not quite give up the idea of East-West and North-South streets.  So radiating from the Capitol Square are streets in eight directions.

The capitol building itself is symmetrical in four directions.  Each of the North, South, East and West entrances looks pretty much identical and each of the diagonal entrances are also mostly identical.  So a person walking around the square can easily become disoriented if he or she is not familiar with the subtle differences.  But all the streets are named and marked, and there are seldom strangers walking around lost at the end of a day.

(But I could tell a story about a group of four silly girls new to the Madison area, who were out for an evening on the town; and who forgot on which of the eight streets was the parking ramp at which they had parked their vehicle.  And they were, indeed, wandering around at the end of the evening, from street to street, checking out all the various city parking ramps, hoping at each one to see the familiar compact green auto.)

 Getting back to the Farmer's Market.

The backdrop of the Farmer's Market is the beautiful white stonework of the Capitol against the vivid green of the capitol lawns.  The market vendors set up their colorful awnings at the edge of the first ring of concentric one-way roads surrounding the square.  This first ring of roadway is often closed for such events, so motorized vehicle traffic is limited to an occasional vendor coming or going.  But bicycles and strollers and wagons and rollerblades abound, alongside the merry, jostling crowds of pedestrian market goers.

The goods being offered for sale vary widely.  You can expect to see fruits and vegetables in every shape and color under the sun.  You will find honey and cured meats and baked goods.  Jams and jellies; pickles; artisan cheeses.

The flower vendors are many.  You might get yourself a bouquet of sunflowers in  numerous shades and sizes; a cluster of dalias or gladiolas or canna lilies; dephiniums and echinacea; daisies, lupines, bachelor buttons.

You can buy annual bedding plants in the spring; and perennials shrubbery and even seedling trees in spring and fall.

It's not unusual to see, at one or another of the intersections, a street entertainer of some sort; singers, jugglers, magicians...

When we lived in Madison briefly while my husband was doing some graduate work, I spent most Saturday mornings during Farmer's Market season with my friend Beth. It was a trying time at home, with five small children, on such a limited budget, and with Joe so busy.  Those Saturday mornings were a real get-away for me.

After Beth and I met up each week, we'd head first to Starbuck's for our morning infusion of warmth and energy.  Then we'd walk around the square, sometimes just walking, making a couple of circuits and talking about everything under the sun.  Other times we'd stop and look at the wares of nearly every vendor.  Occasionally, we'd splurge and share a sweet roll, or a cream cheese, tomato and cilantro omelette.

As the morning wore on, we'd both feel the pull of adult responsibility.  Eventually we'd have to make our way back to our vehicle or bus stop or bike and head back to life on the outside.  Life outside of the magical world of the Dane County Farmer's Market.

No comments: