The Madison Market Challenge

May 23, 2010

Two weeks ago it was forty degrees outside. Today’s high is ninety. Welcome to Wisconsin.

The university’s semester has ended, Memorial Day is a mere week away and The Terrace was already overflowing this weekend. Summer is in full swing here in the state’s capital.

I spent a lot of time outside yesterday. I started my day at the Dane County Farmers’ Market – talking to the vendors, trying fresh produce and watching the community enjoy the gorgeous day – the day ended at the Memorial Union Terrace – sipping on local beer, indulging in ice cream and laughing with good friends. You couldn’t ask for a better Saturday in May.

Even though the Dane County Farmers’ Market starts in mid-April, yesterday was one of the first truly wonderful days to venture out and appreciate the market. The Dane County Farmers’ Market is the largest producer-only market in the nation and held around the Capital Square from April to November each Saturday, and on Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. on Wednesdays. It continues all year indoors.

As I walked the square, admiring the market, I realized how lucky the Madison community is to have this great resource at our fingertips each week. There are so many different foods to find at the market – an array of fresh, vibrant veggies, bakeries, honey, beef, flowers, even ostrich! “I really need to start taking advantage of this,” I thought.

So here it is. I’ve been wanting to do something for awhile. To truly challenge myself to eat locally, healthier and enjoy the foods that are all around me, in season. Now I’ve decided on how to do it.

The Challenge

I want to truly explore the amazing foods southern Wisconsin creates. This means no fast-food chains, or restaurants that ship-in their food. Only foods produced in southern Wisconsin. To set a more specific target – from Memorial Day until Labor Day I will eat foods from only three locations:

  • The Farmers’ Market – Mainly the Dane County Farmers’ Market, but any local farmers’ market is in the “okay zone.”
  • Local Farmers – Whether I venture to the farm, get food from the CSA, or get local food from the grocery store, if its not purchased at the farmers’ market, it must still come from a local farmer.
  • Local Companies – This subset applies mostly to beverages, which aren’t widely available at the farmers’ market. Beverages must also be local. Thus, local apple juice. No orange juice. I’ll also apply this subset to any other locally produced products I come across during my challenge – meats, eggs, breads. (Note: I’m 23 and live in Wisconsin, in the summertime. Thus, out of being realistic, alcohol doesn’t count in this challenge. Only “food.” I would argue that orange juice is food, a whiskey soda, is not.)

To keep track of my progress, I’ll post a farmers’ market grocery list each week, talk to local farmers to give you the “inside scoop” and record my recipes. Hopefully this will become a helpful “how-to” for anyone to eat from their local farmers’ market, wherever it may be.

Now, thinking about my lifestyle. I know that I need to be as completely transparent as possible and lay down two “exceptions” for this challenge.

  • Not buying local when I am not in southern Wisconsin. Indeed, it will be most difficult to purchase food made in Wisconsin when I am not actually in Wisconsin, thus, I will apply my “local” theme to any state or city I am in while there and try to eat what is locally produced in that city. As, when most  travel, I will not have a kitchen to use, I will most likely be eating out and will try to record where in whichever city I am in has the best local food.
  • Not having control over others. I can’t control what my family and friends do. Thus, when I’m at home in Milwaukee, at a friend’s barbecue, or even a work function, I will be polite and eat what my host has to offer. If I must bring a dish to pass, however, I will make sure its made from my previously set criteria.

Anything I make during the summer 2010 will come from local farmers in Madison. My end goal? Turn this into a lifestyle, rather than a challenge.

Any comments, suggestions, questions, I’d be happy to hear them.

Let the countdown to Memorial Day start. I’m excited!

In the wise words of one we all adore, “You don’t have to cook fancy or complicated masterpieces – just good food from fresh ingredients.” – Julia Child.

Bring on the fresh ingredients.

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9 Responses to “The Madison Market Challenge”

  1. Devon Says:

    I think this is great! Good luck – I’m interested to see how it turns out. Will you be making any foods – and will you only use local ingredients for those (I’m thinking breads, other grains, etc)? You should keep track of $ as well, as it would be interesting to see that afterward.

    Have you read Barbara Kingsolver’s “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle?” If not – you would LOVE that. Similar to what you are doing but for a year, with her family.

    • Amanda Says:

      I’ve been considering doing it for a full year… in Madison it would be kind of difficult, but definitely do-able. A bigger challenge than the summer. That’s for sure. We’ll see!

  2. Beau Says:

    Here in Kansas, I try to go local when it makes practical sense. Sooo tough to maintain that regimen with kids though. Can’t wait to see what local treasures you unearth!
    p.s. – I feel your pain with the whacked-out weather!

    • Amanda Says:

      Exactly. It really isn’t that hard of a thing to do, but then when you add a crazy busy lifestyle into the mix, this is where American’s seem to struggle. It seems so much easier for people to do in other countries…


  3. Wow! Good luck! I can’t wait to see how it goes!

    • Amanda Says:

      Thanks! I’d love to do it at farmers’ markets all over the country, of course, but at least this summer I’m in good ol’ Madison, Wisconsin.

  4. Gemma Says:

    This sounds really interesting – I’ll look forward to seeing how you get on. Good luck!

  5. Lee Says:

    You said no chocolate but then mention local beer in this post. Do you know if they use local grains and hops? What about sugar?

    • Amanda Says:

      From text:

      Note: I’m 23 and live in Wisconsin, in the summertime. Thus, out of being realistic, alcohol doesn’t count in this challenge. Only “food.” I would argue that orange juice is food, a whiskey soda, is not.

      I’m applying this to food only and it is a “lifestyle challenge.” Not a “make your life so miserable that you have a horrible summer” challenge.


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