The Madison Public Market:  The Next Stage in Promoting Local Food


Special thanks to our guest blogger, James Shulkin, member of the Madison Public Market Advisory Council!

Here in southern Wisconsin, we love our Farmers’ Markets! The Dane County Farmers Market located on the Capitol Square, is reportedly the largest producer-only farmers’ market in the country. While certainly the best known in the region, and a must visit at least a few times each season, this “jewel” of markets is supplemented by at least twenty farmers’ markets elsewhere in Madison and in communities like Baraboo, Beloit, Fitchburg, Fort Atkinson, Janesville, Middleton, Monona, Stoughton, Sun Prairie, Verona and Waunakee.

The proposed Madison Public Market will offer some of the same amenities as your local farmers’ market, plus more. A key difference between a Farmer’s Market and Public Market is that a Public Market is indoors, allowing it to be open year round, often 5-7 days per week. The City of Madison’s fleet services building at the corner of E. Johnson and First Street, will be home to our year-round Public Market, opening at the end of 2021. This retro space is a perfect Market home with 2 story ceilings and open space, floor to ceiling windows, several 2 story garage doors that will be open during the warm months, and a location near green spaces including Burr Jones Field, the Yahara River and several bike paths.

Rendering of Public Market Interior

According to Jamaal Stricklin, Chair of the Madison Public Market Foundation, a non-profit tasked with operating the Market once it opens, shared, “At the Public Market, you’ll find items that you can’t get anywhere else in town all under roof ; ready-made food products, fresh produce, unique food ingredients and culturally diverse foods cooked on site that you can take home or eat there. We’re also planning to have a restaurant and cafe on site.”

Like your local farmer’s market, the Public Market will provide a fun and interesting gathering place to meet friends and co-workers while enjoying talented musicians and performers. However, the Market will have other amenities in that it will house community activities, meeting spaces, art exhibits, full-service restaurants, cooking classes, festivals and temporary pop-up vending events. In addition, the Public Market will provide a seasonal cold-weather option for farmers’ market vendors looking to expand their selling season.

The Madison Public Market Foundation is hoping to partner with local farmers’ markets by offering outdoor market stands during the growing season. “We’ve also had conversations with the Dane County Farmers’ Market to potentially relocate the winter market to our event space,” shared Stricklin.

Ugly Apple food cart owner Laurel hands samples to a customer at May 2019 Sneak Peek EventAccording to Dan Kennelly, manager of the City of Madison’s Office of Business Resources, the Public Market’s main purpose is community based economic development. “We want the Public Market to be a place where an entrepreneur with a unique idea for a new food product, or a new business idea, can have a place where there will be foot traffic, where they can launch their business and bring that idea to reality,” adds Kennelly. “We expect that market participants who make an interesting sauce, or jam or some other kind of food product, can use the Public Market to develop a customer base and continue to grow into a brick and mortar location, or sell wholesale to grocery stores on a much larger basis.”

The Madison Public Market will also be an important part of the overall regional agriculture community. The synergies that will exist among agriculture-related companies, organizations that support entrepreneurs like those mentioned above, and the Public Market, will likely make Madison the best local food community in the country. One exciting partnership is with the Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin (DFW). DFW will host a Wisconsin Dairy Experience in the Market that will feature some of Wisconsin’s most beloved and delicious Wisconsin cheese vendors, cheese and dairy tastings, plus a fun, interactive experience that will foster our love of Wisconsin dairy! Suzanne Fanning, VP of Communications for Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin, shares, “We’re excited to create a destination within the Market for locals and visitors alike to celebrate the vast array of our state’s award-winning cheese and to honor the dairy farmers of Wisconsin.”

The concept that food-related endeavors are viable, actionable vehicles for entrepreneurship is already well established in the region. Southern Wisconsin boasts the largest agriculture employment base in the state. According to the Madison Region Economic Partnership, there are nearly 60,000 jobs directly related to agriculture, comprising 20% of Wisconsin’s total agricultural employment. Regional infrastructure supports food & beverage production, processing, packaging, and distribution.

Madame Chu owner Josey serves up samples of her sauceMadison’s unique food infrastructure, traditions, and facilities, all play a role in supporting and strengthening our food system. For example, the Dane County Farmers Market is a beloved weekly event focused on sales of local agricultural products, the FEED Kitchens provides flexible commercial cooking opportunities for entrepreneurs and community members, the Garver Feed Mill is a new home to growing, “second stage” food companies, and Madison College offers a array of culinary training programs and credentials. The Madison Public Market is designed to complement and build on Madison’s existing strengths and assets in the food economy.

Kennelly believes the Public Market will be Madison’s next treasured public place. He and others who envision the Public Market’s success see it as a destination for everyone, where you can purchase fresh vegetables and baked goods, stop in for lunch, or have dinner and late night drinks with friends.

After all, says Kennelly, “We are a food city.”

The Madison area has many amazing facets, but nothing quite like the public market. I can’t wait to watch this community hub come to life and foster small business growth and diverse connections! - Rebecca Prochaska, Potter Lawson

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