Small Business

Wisconsin Farmers Grow Business at the Farmers’ Market
At the Dane County Farmers’ Market in Madison, Wisconsin, farmers come from all over the state to sell fruits, vegetables, cheeses and more.

Dane County Farmers' Market

At the Dane County Farmers’ Market in Madison, Wisconsin, farmers come from all over the state to sell fruits, vegetables, cheeses and more.

More than 280 vendors sell at the market throughout the year, which operates on Wednesdays and Saturdays during the summer, and Saturdays in the winter. Market manager Larry Johnson says Dane County is the largest “producers only” market in the country: Everyone with a stand is required to grow or produce the items they sell.

“Everything must be produced in Wisconsin. We have spot checks and inspectors,” says Johnson. He says the farmers themselves must be present at the market as well, which adds more to the experience for shoppers.

“Customers can find out how it’s grown, and how to cook it,” says Johnson. “We don’t allow resale … we’re interested in [maintaining] the integrity of the market.”

FOXBusiness.com spoke with four Dane County vendors to learn what the market means to their businesses.

No. 1: The Summer Kitchen

Who: Dan Aultman
Where: Highland, Wisconsin
His story: Aultman took over the farm from his neighbor Jim Schroeder, who taught him farming basics at the tender age of four–and-a-half. The Summer Kitchen grows crops on 5 primary acres, but the farm spans 190 acres total.
What he grows: Over 20 types of fruits and berries, which Aultman turns into over 65 varieties of jams and jellies.
Best market experience: “I see people coming down [to the market] with big smiles on their faces, enjoying their day. The next person has a real serious grocery list on their mind, and the next is excited to see what’s new,” says Aultman.
Running the business: Aultman sells at the DCFM on Saturdays; during the week he sells directly from the farm. The biggest challenge? The weather.

“The farm demands a lot of me. Sometimes you need to go out and help with a calf when it’s thundering outside,” says Aultman.

No. 2: Hook's Cheese

Who: Tony Hook
Where: Mineral Point, Wisconsin
His story: Hook has been running his cheesery for 43 years. “I get milk from local farms … the biggest one has 50 cows. One has been in the family since 1812,” says Hook. He runs Hook’s Cheese with four full-time employees and his wife, who works part-time.
What he makes: Hook’s main item is blue cheese, of which he produces seven varieties. “We sell directly to some restaurants and to quite a few distributors around the nation – we’re probably in 35 states,” says Hook.
Best market experience: “Dealing directly with the end consumer. The customer is right there, asking you questions about how you use that, why is this cheese like this,” explains Hook. The market is also important, he says, for getting Hook’s Cheese exposure to chefs and specialty stores.
Running the business: “On Fridays, we start at 2:30 in the morning to make cheese curds for the locals,” says Hook, who says he works 10-12 hours on a normal day.

(Copyright 2010 William C. Lubing)

No. 3: Renaissance Farm

Who: Mark Olson
Where: Spring Green, Wisconsin
His story: Olson has been farming for 30 years, and credits the farmers’ market for kickstarting his business. “The Dane County Farmers Market helped me turn my basil into pesto – I created a business because of it,” says Olson.
What he grows:  Basil, cilantro and lemon basil. Olson turns the basil into seven kinds of pesto, and he also makes extra virgin olive oils and herbed sea salts.
Best market experience: “The friendship that’s developed both with other vendors and certainly with customers,” says Olson, who describes seeing customers grow up and then bring their own kids to the market.
Running the business: Olson sells his products in restaurants and retail stores in four through a distributor. “My days start at 4 a.m. I go through my routine, do some yoga and drink a pot of coffee,” says Olson.

No. 4: Grass Is Greener Farm

Who: Rich Horbaczewski
Where: Monroe, Wisconsin
His story: Horbaczewski quit his job as an IT professional in Chicago, bought a farm in Monroe, and turned his life upside down.
What he makes: “We pickle everything,” says Horbaczewski. He runs a farm, a small store, a restaurant and a small pickling factory.
Best market experience:
“It’s incredibly important to our overall business, because we’re not in a lot of outlets,” says Horbazcewski. “Customers are getting more sophisticated about farmers’ practices, asking how you’re bringing things to market and whether you’re organic or not. We’re certified organic, and we believe in American-made stuff.”
Running the business: “I’m a slave to weather conditions,” says Horbazcewski, who says bad weather makes it hard to establish consistency in the business.

Wisconsin Farmers Grow Business at the Farmers’ Market

At the Dane County Farmers’ Market in Madison, Wisconsin, farmers come from all over the state to sell fruits, vegetables, cheeses and more.

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