Buy Local: South Madison Farmers' Market

Buy Local: South Madison Farmers' Market

Part of Ep. 2006 Urban Gardening

As Robert Pierce, the owner and manager of the South Madison Farmers' Market, puts it, everyone deserves to be able to purchase local, safe, organic food.  But, a farmers' market is more than that--it’s a safe place to gather, a place that focuses on community, nutrition and friendship.

Premiere date: Jul 01, 2012

TRANSCRIPT+
Wisc Gardener Transcript: 

Shelley Ryan:

Fresh produce is something we all deserve. I'm talking with Robert Pierce, an organic farmer and the owner of the South Madison Farmer's Market about his journey into helping people get fresh produce all over the place. You've been an organic farmer, Robert, for a long time and the owner of the South Madison Farmer's Market. This has been quite a journey for you. Let's start at the beginning. How long have you been an organic farmer?

 

Robert Pierce :

About 30 years. What caused you to go into something that is quite labor intensive?

 

Robert Pierce :

Oh, it's personal, first. After Vietnam, I became allergic to chemicals and stuff in food, and just allergic reactions to different types of foods and stuff. So it became very important to me to start eating right. I couldn't trust people to grow it so I started growing it myself.

 

Shelley Ryan:

Well, 30 years ago, "organics" were kind of a somewhat new concept. Not everybody was understanding why anyone would do that.

 

Robert Pierce :

That's true! I ended up getting?? I wanted to get an acre of land. I was in business college and I decided I wanted to get an acre of land.

 

Shelley Ryan:

That's a good size.

 

Robert Pierce :

To grow food for my family and stuff. The guy who owned the land kept asking me, he said, "What are you doing?" I said, "Organic," and he said, "What's that?" I said, "I'm growing food without poisons." And he goes, "You're in the business college?" I says yeah. He said it don't look like you're thinking, you know. So he kept doing that, you know and so he ended up getting me to take the 22.5 acres. I ended up taking that.

 

Shelley Ryan:

Okay, that's more than enough for your family.

 

Robert Pierce :

Yeah, and so in doing so, I started growing a lot of food and started giving it to my grandmother's peers because I've always?? When I was a kid I used to get their food for them out of the gardens and take it to them. So here I was, I was taking this food to these people. They were looking at me going, well you can't keep giving this to us. You got to start selling it to us.

 

Shelley Ryan:

Oh, wow, okay.

 

Robert Pierce :

So I put together a package I would drop off every week called a senior package. So, it started where I was selling down at the big market on the Square the Dane County Farmer's Market.

 

Shelley Ryan:

That's one of the largest in the country, too. It's in Madison but it's the largest farmer's market in the country.

 

Robert Pierce:

Yes, it is. We started there. The type of food we were growing was considered ethnic food, mustard greens collard greens, turnips, okra, stuff like this that the African?American community really likes, and not a lot of people downtown knew what this stuff was. So after being down there through the whole day I would end up going back to south Madison, my home you know, my own neighborhood. We'd sell the stuff that we had to all of our neighbors and my grandmother's peers and stuff. It became a regular thing that they knew that every Saturday they'd see me. Me and the kids.

 

Shelley Ryan:

You ended up creating a mini South Madison Farmer's Market right there, after the Dame County Farmer's Market.

 

Robert Pierce :

Yeah, a large stand.

 

Shelley Ryan:

How did that morph into you becoming the owner of the South Madison Farmer's Market?

 

Robert Pierce :

The Partnership for Prevention, and Dane County Extension, and a couple other people from the university had decided that there was a need for safe, fresh food to be brought into South Madison There weren't very many avenues for them to get this so they created a farmer's market. After the second year, they lost the market manager. I was asked to come in to help out with the market the year before that. So, once that market got established and they lost the market manager they asked, would I become the market manager. Once I became the market manager UW?Extension said someone has to have ownership of this market. A fellow by the name of Lee Cunningham said this is your market, Robert.

 

Shelley Ryan:

Good for you!

 

Robert Pierce :

And I go, "I don't, no, no, no..." And he goes, "Yeah, yeah, yeah." He says, do you want the market to succeed? Take it. So they thrust it upon me and I've been here ever since.

 

Shelley Ryan:

How many vendors is an average for you?

 

Robert Pierce :

Through the course of the summer we average between 15?20 vendors now.

 

Shelley Ryan:

A lot of people think, especially if they visit the Dane County Farmer's Market, they think that 15 vendors isn't a lot. But the Dane County Farmer's Market is unique. I mean, for an average farmer's market that I've been to 15 vendors is a good size.

 

Robert Pierce:

Oh, yes, that's the largest market in the country.

 

Shelley Ryan:

For most of us.

 

Robert Pierce :

It's more about tourism than it is about the essence of a farmer's market. The essence of a farmer's market is a place for a meeting place. It's a place for a community to come together for information. It's a safe place for people to gather. We try to create these different things for people here in South Madison.

 

Shelley Ryan:

They get to know the growers of their local fresh food.

 

Robert Pierce :

Very much. They know each one of the vendors. They know who their vendors are. They know what that vendor sells. They'll go, hey, that's the strawberry man, or that's the apple man.

 

Shelley Ryan:

Why go through all this trouble? It's a lot of work for you.

 

Robert Pierce :

Well, because of the 21st century diet and the ailments that we suffer from diabetes, heart failure obesity! That's very big, you know.

 

Shelley Ryan:

For adults, kids, everybody.

 

Robert Pierce :

So, there's a great need for people to go back to eating safe food. This is why I do what I do.

 

Shelley Ryan:

Well, I thank you for doing what you're doing.

 

Robert Pierce :

Thank you very much.

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