Local foods and rich family history

orange carrots on tableFarmers’ markets are a long-time Wisconsin tradition. It’s hard to resist the amazing smells, friendly faces, and wide array of beautiful foods and crafts. Farmers’ markets as we know them won’t be around this summer, but they’ll still be there, and if you do a little research and practice safety, you can still enjoy products from your local farms! 

“You can get some really good quality food at the farmer’s market. I appreciate getting locally-sourced food as opposed to what I could get at the grocery store,” says longtime SAIL Member Janice Gary.  She knows firsthand just how crucial it is to patronize local farms.


Janice Gary
Janice Gary at a SAIL event

A long history of farming

Janice’s grandparents came to the United States from a small area about 50 miles east of Strasburg, Germany. Janice remembers getting to travel to Germany to her family’s three-story home in the countryside where they had their farm. “I felt so proud to get to be there and see that house, ” she says emphatically.

Like many who settled in Wisconsin, Janice’s family made their living as farmers. She grew up in the small town of Chilton, WI, with four uncles and their families farming nearby. “My father had not even an elementary education and was able to make a living and raise six children,” she says. Janice says she picked up “an entrepreneurial spirit” from her farming family, who provided food for the local community.  Noting how farmers often help each other, she remembers her father and uncles collaborating to keep their farms going.


Farming in the 21st century

Today, Janice reflects, it’s almost impossible to do what her father and uncles did. While many large corporate farms are family-owned, they operate at a capacity small farms can’t keep up with. “You have to take so many risks [to get there],” Janice says. She has one cousin who has gotten to the point where he can “milk 300 cows a day,” but she saw her family’s longstanding tradition phase-out otherwise.

There are arguments for and against corporate farms, as with any large business. But many prefer to get their foods from local, small farms, and Wisconsin has plenty of those.  According to the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection, Wisconsin has nearly 65,000 farms and accounts for 11.8% of the state’s employment.  Wisconsin is one of the top farming states for vegetables and fruit, with some of the country’s highest productions of green peas, snap peas, carrots, potatoes, cherries, and apples.

They don’t call us America’s Dairyland for nothing! Wisconsin’s dairy industry contributes $45.6 billion to the state’s economy each year, with 1.28 million cows and more than 7,000 dairy farms.

Getting locally-sourced foods during COVID-19

assorted peppers lot on display

Still, things are getting very difficult for small farming businesses, and COVID-19 has proven very scary for farms. For many, farmers’ markets are a major driver of their annual business.

But farmers, all too familiar with challenges, have rallied! Below is information on various farmers’ markets in South Central Wisconsin and how you can patronize them.  This list only includes local markets with safety measures and pre-ordering options available on their websites. Be sure to wear a mask and bring your hand sanitizer!

  • Order directly from farmers! This document provided by the Dane County Farmers’ Market gives information on how to order your favorite foods directly from their local farmers. But remember, County’s Farmers’ Market represents many, but not all local farmers. This tool allows you to search for farmers across the entire state!

  • Dane County Farmers’ Market has pickups available on Wednesdays and Saturdays at the Alliant Energy Center’s Willow Island. Download the app or browse online, pay in advance, and swing by to pick up your items! Click here for more information.

  • DeForest Farmers’ Market has curbside pickup and social distancing guidelines in place. Click here for more information.

  • Eastside Farmers’ Market encourages pre-ordering and has social distancing guidelines in place. Click here for more information.

  • Monona Farmers’ Market has numerous safety measures in place. Click here for more information.

  • Monroe Street Farmers’ Market has numerous safety measures in place and encourages pre-ordering. Click here for more information.


Stay safe, shop local

Janice’s family is one of many with a long tradition of farming. It’s hard to imagine a more noble profession than providing food, our sustaining life force. Farmers pass down not only their skills, but their spirit. Even in a pandemic, we can still show them how grateful we are!

Many thanks to Janice Gary for being part of this story!


Wisconsin Agricultural Statistics – Dept. of Agriculture
A history of Wisconsin farmers’ markets
Wisconsin Farmers’ Market Association
Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin
SAIL post on National Dairy Month
SAIL post on farmer and author Jerry Apps


About SAIL:

We are a vibrant, active, non-profit membership program founded in 2005 and  located in Madison, Wisconsin. As part of the nationwide Village Movement, we celebrate independence and stewardship in older adults, creating a community of learning, activity, socialization, and support for one another. SAIL is a family of fascinating people sharing their passion for life! Learn more at www.sailtoday.org


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