When trees bud and bulbs blossom, the arrival of fresh asparagus and morels can’t be far behind. Hoop houses and greenhouses hike the likelihood that locally grown spinach, tomatoes and more will ripen all year, but now is the time for farmers markets to move outdoors, rain or shine. Count these among my favorites.
Dane County Farmers’ Market, Madison: Up to 150 vendors (300-plus players per year) fill the Capitol Square on Saturdays, and there is no better place to get a taste of what is in season. That includes a whiff of hot-button issues (expect protest signs, petition pushing and colorful characters on street corners). All products are ag-based and the work of people who staff the booths; no other such producer-operated market in the U.S. is bigger than this one, and newbies need patience because of a five-year waiting list to participate.
Lines are long for Stella’s Hot and Spicy Cheese Bread, and it’s fine to tear into your loaf with bare hands. Look for Dale Marsden’s funky beehive hat (he’s sold honey for at least 35 years), and reserve time for neighborhood craft vendors, especially at State Street. Walk counterclockwise and leave the dog at home. We locals, frankly, do our serious shopping at the city’s many other farmers markets; they are not as diverse but much less congested. Hours: 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, through Nov. 7. dcfm.org, 608-455-1999
Kenosha HarborMarket: Free music and merchandise from food and craft vendors fill Second Avenue between 54th and 56th streets downtown, within a stroll of Lake Michigan. Nuns from Fraternite Notre Dame sell croissants, fruit tarts and other beautiful bakery. Lunch on empanadas, pierogis or (a hometown favorite) Chubby Dog hot dogs. Consider a visit to the adjacent Kenosha Public Museum and Civil War Museum. Hours: 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, through Oct. 10. kenoshaharbormarketplace.com, 262-654-7307
Eau Claire Farmers Market: Under the roomy, open-air pavilion at Phoenix Park, Asian foods, meat from Lambalot Acres and kolaches from Bohemian Ovens are among products that draw fans for all seasons. The downtown park faces the Chippewa River, and a paved shoreline trail for bicycling hooks up with the 30-mile Chippewa River State Trail. Hours: 7:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, through Oct. 31. ecdowntownfarmersmarket.com, 715-563-2644
Downtown Appleton Farm Market: Downtown Houdini Plaza and four blocks of College Avenue, between Appleton and Drew streets, are blocked off seasonally for a fun mix of 150 vendors who sell artisan foods, fresh garden fare and handcrafted jewelry to soaps. During the sweet corn harvest, hot and buttery kernels are scooped by the cup – convenient and tasty. Work off excess calories by testing your hoola-hooping skills. Hours: 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Saturday, June 20 through Oct. 31. appletondowntown.org, 920-954-9112
Outdoor Urban Market, Milwaukee: The work of farmers and artists intersect outside of the Milwaukee Public Market in the invigorating Third Ward, a long-ago warehouse district. Other farmers markets in the city are larger, but this one has the added benefit of 18 year-round, open-daily, indoor tenants (like Kehr’s Candies, in business since 1930). Hours: 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, June 6 through Sept. 26. milwaukeepublicmarket.org, 414-336-1111
Viroqua Farmers Market: All vendors are from a 100-mile radius of this vibrant community in Wisconsin’s breath-taking Driftless Area. That includes Amish families who sell hand-woven baskets and woodworking as well as just-baked pies and jars of pickles at the Vernon County Fairgrounds. Hours: 8 a.m. to noon Saturday, through Oct. 31. viroqua-wisconsin.com, 608-637-2575
Growers Produce Auction, Cashton: Amish families in southwest Wisconsin sell edible, garden and hand-crafted items at least twice weekly, but sales on Memorial Day and Labor Day are the largest. Dozens of quilts and pieces of furniture keep auctioneers busy for up to eight hours on both holidays, starting at 8:30 a.m. During other weeks, wholesale produce and plant sales are most prevalent; bidding begins at 11 a.m. on most Tuesdays and Fridays, through Oct. 2. growersproduceauction.com, 608-654-7880
Sturgeon Bay Farmers Market: Vendors fill and sprawl from the downtown Market Square parking lot for sales of homegrown and handmade items that change every week because of $20 first-come, first-accommodated vendor spots that are in addition to the 55 full-season sellers. Hours: 8:30 a.m. to noon, June 6 through Oct. 31. sturgeonbaywi.org, 920-746-2914
Manitowoc Farmers’ Market: In a parking lot between Quay Street and the Manitowoc River are dozens of food and craft vendors. A fringe benefit of the setting is ample lawn seating to watch summer boat traffic while munching on cheese curds or pastries. Hours: 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., through Oct. 31. manitowoc.org, 920-686-6930
Ashland Farmers Market: Roots music is an appropriate match for the carrots, radishes, spuds and other tubers that local farmers grow, but expect a wider variety of tunes and wares. That might include bluegrass or folk, wood-carved kitchen tools or small-batch roasted coffees. Hours: 8 a.m. to noon Saturdays, mid June through mid October. ashlandareafarmersmarket.com, 651-497-9142
The Wisconsin Farmers Market Association at wifarmersmarket.org organizes its members by county and provides a valuable online guide about when to shop for what and how to use in-season veggies or fruits.