Wisconsin farmers’ markets

This post is contributed by Ally Hrkac, our current Material Culture Summer Service Learner. Ally recently completed her B.S. in Secondary Education at UW-Madison and is working with Recollection Wisconsin this summer to develop online exhibits and educational resources.

“This smell of the country gets me. I don’t wonder the farmer is held under the hypnotic spell of Mother Nature and thinks about all the stuffy city is good for is to trade with and visit occasionally.”

The Man from Honolulu and What He Saw in Oshkosh, 1912

The anonymous “Man from Honolulu,” observing the fall landscape on the shore of Lake Winnebago, captures the essence of Wisconsin farms and Wisconsin farmers’ markets. City dwellers, like the farmers themselves, are drawn to the “spell” of nature and are thankful for these farmers’ gifts to the “stuffy city.”

Wisconsin farmers, artisans, and other vendors work hard all year to prepare for farmers’ markets in order to provide goods to the local community. Many Wisconsin residents “buy local” to support their farmers, and the myriad of market locations around the state allow locals to do so.

The photographs in this slideshow portray the farmers’ markets – a variety including general markets, roadside stands, and co-ops – of the past. Notice the types of goods and services sold; take a look at the form of transportation used. What has changed? What has stayed the same?

Though goods and services may have drastically varied over the years to meet the needs of the evolving community and customer, some things remain – the gathering of a community, a morning or afternoon spent outdoors, the support and promotion of local food consumption, the charm of local craft, and the joy that fresh food brings to Wisconsin market goers. What is your favorite part of farmers’ markets? Which Wisconsin farmers’ markets have you attended?

  • Selling hay at Central Market, Milwaukee.
    This Milwaukee market began in the 1840s and was strictly for hay. Originally known as Market Square, around 1912 the market became a green market called Central Market. Source: Milwaukee Public Library.
  • Central Municipal Market, Milwaukee, 1942.
    Milwaukee's Central Market in 1942. Although the market location is the same as that shown in the previous slide, the products on sale and the scale of the market have expanded significantly. Source: Milwaukee Public Library.
  • Plums for market, Madison, 1890-1920.

    A horse drawn carriage delivers plums to a Madison market circa 1890-1920. The method of delivery shows just how local the produce is. Source: UW-Madison Archives.

  • Juneau Town, East Division Market, ca. 1885.
    Milwaukee’s East Division Market was also known as the German Market. Wisconsin’s German-born population peaked in 1900, but German cultural and economic influence remained. Source: UW-Milwaukee Libraries.
  • Michigan Fruit Boat Market, Milwaukee, 1937.
    Located on Ferry Street in Milwaukee, the Fruit Boat Market utilized the Milwaukee River as the market front. Steamers from the eastern shore of Lake Michigan delivered fresh fruit to the city. Source: Milwaukee Public Library.
  • Vegetable market, Milwaukee, ca. 1948.
    Two young girls weigh and bag vegetables at an open-air market in Milwaukee ca. 1948. Photo from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Source: Wisconsin Historical Society.
  • Apple stand, Mukwonago, 1963.
    A couple sets up their stand at a roadside location near Mukwonago with a variety of apples and jugs of cider to sell to local consumers. Photo by Kenneth C. Futterleib for the Milwaukee Journal. Source: Wisconsin Historical Society.
  • Milwaukee Coop Food Market.
    A clerk at the Milwaukee Coop Food Market. In the 1970s, Milwaukee residents started to see the benefits of co-ops, which pool together resources to purchase more affordable goods and help family farmers. Source: Milwaukee Public Library.
  • Flower seller, Milwaukee, 1982.
    A vendor sits in front of her flower cart at the corner of East North Avenue and Kenilworth in Milwaukee, 1982. Wisconsin farmers' markets are known for their rich variety of vendors and products sold. Source: Milwaukee Public Library.
  • Farmers market, Eau Claire, 1970-1990.

    A happy vendor near Eau Claire sets up her vegetable stand outside her vehicle, selling a variety of fresh produce advertised by her handmade signs. Source: Chippewa Valley Museum.

  • Family farmers' market, Wauwatosa, 1988.
    In Wauwatosa in 1988, cousins set up a roadside stand to sell fruits and vegetables grown by their grandfather. Locally-sourced produce and family vendors are common to farmers' markets large and small. Source: Wisconsin Historical Society.


The images in this online exhibit come from the following digital collections. Click the links to browse the full collections.


  1. james fortner:


    I’m currently enrolled in an online course that’s studying our cultural and social relationship to the “commons”. The Downtown Farmer’s Market is a beautiful facility at a scenic location and has intrigued me since I first moved here a year ago.

    I’d like to learn the steps taken to acquire the property, why it was chosen and how, and some of the rules for equitably managing the ongoing operation for the benefit of the entire community. Maybe there are newspaper articles, a local history book, or, preferably, a local historian who could spare a few minutes to enlighten me.

    Any help in this small matter would be appreciated.

    Jim Fortner
    3rd Ward

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