Madison, Wisconsin’s farmers market (officially the Dane County Farmers Market) is the Times Square of produce, cheese and all other forms of local eats. Every Saturday from April to November, roughly 160 vendors form a ring around the massive state capitol, with all manner of street vendors, musicians and political activists orbiting the action at various distances.
You’d think the whole scene is mainly about keeping things mellow, what with the overflow of earthy folks selling organic beets and dudes playing kettledrums. But your first visit reveals at least one hard-core rule shoppers must quickly master: Traffic patterns matter, even when you’re browsing for cheese curds.
The current of shoppers flows in a counterclockwise pattern around the capitol square, and in the middle of a Saturday morning, breaking into the stream can be like merging onto the freeway at rush hour.
On our last visit, my wife and I stood on the curb, watching for an opening as people rolled by with carrot greens sticking from their backpacks and long shoots of Brussels sprouts balanced on their shoulders.
“Get ready,” my wife said. “I’m making a move.” And she nosed the stroller into the crowd, creating enough space for both of us to follow. Once we were riding the current, we noticed two lanes: A fast one on the inside, and a slow one on the outside where people frequently pulled out to browse at a booth.
“Are you supposed to signal to merge?” I asked, when I spotted some promising-looking pastries on a table.
“I don’t know,” my wife responded, “but you’d better make up your mind, or we’ll miss the exit.”
“Turning!” I shouted and peeled off to the right. A couple of minutes later, snacks in hand, we jumped back into the flow, quickly working to the outer lane so we could see the Asian acrobats firing up the next show on the capitol lawn. We pulled off for a break on the northeast corner of the square, where some guy was handing out brochures demonstrating that 9/11 was an inside job by the U.S. government.
“Anything else we need?” I asked.
“We need to make another round,” my wife responded. “There were some peppers I liked about 50 feet behind us.”