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Dane County Farmers' Market closes for walk-up shopping

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MADISON, Wis. — On this warmer than usual fall Saturday, the Dane County Farmer’s Market welcomed locals to their last outdoor walk-up shopping opportunity of the season at Willow Island.

Like many businesses, they adjusted their usual in-person operations by the Capitol after the pandemic hit. Organizers said they quickly set up an “order-ahead” model online, allowing people to pick up their orders in a drive-through at the Alliant Energy Center.

Then, starting in August, the market brought back a walk-up option.

“We really wanted to try to connect as many customers with as many farmers and some of our customers just really prefer that spontaneous shopping experience where they don’t want to place a preorder and similarly a lot of our framer really prefer that in-person connection,” said Marker Manager Sarah Elliot.

Vendors spaced out their tents, each taking their own safety precautions: “We had hand sany constantly so that by the end of the market our hands are just slime a river of slime,” said Jane Hamilton, Ela Apple Orchard farmer.

The market is technically a “food access point,” so there isn’t any eating or congregating allowed on site. Elliot said this was especially difficult for customers during the summer.

“Especially in August it was really hard for folk to understand that they had to take their goodies home,” said Elliot.

The peak of the season saw about 60 vendors which Elliot said is still very small compared to what they usually have around the Capitol. After surveying attendees, she found that they wanted to extend the outdoor walk-up market season as long as possible.

“Our customers were telling us loud and clear to stay outside, we’ll brave the cold, we’ll put on the food gear to come see our farmers,” said Elliot.

Still, she said that the order-ahead model had some advantages. Customers appreciated being able to plan their purchases while farmers knew the exact amount of product they needed to bring.

“I actually like the drive-upit kind of complicates things a little bit but it lets us know how much we need to bring ’cause it all prepackaged at home and how much we have to pick,” said Carol Knapp, owner of Knapp’s Fresh Veggies.

For Hamilton, there was also an emotional sliver lining.

“The level of appreciation has maybe even intensified people are really grateful we’re here and we’re really grateful that they’re coming out too,” said Hamilton.

After Thanksgiving, the market will fully move inside, transforming back into the order-ahead model. The drive-through will begin at Pavillion 3 of the Alliant Energy Center on Dec. 2, 2020.

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