Located between Fort Atkinson and Cambridge, the Carpenters' Farm has been a source of lush bedding plants and fresh vegetables at the Dane County Farmers' Market since 1983. Mary and Quentin Carpenter do not work at any other markets, but their booth on North Carroll Street overflows with flora, including 50 varieties of tomato plants and another 15 types of pepper plants, all naturally grown and both pesticide- and herbicide-free. They also sell herbs, houseplants, perennials, and cut flowers, as well as free-range chickens and turkeys in autumn.
The Daily Page: How did you become a farmers' market vendor?
One summer we raised too many green beans. A neighbor mentioned that there was a large market in Madison. We drove in, set up and sold out quickly. Thereafter, we were hooked.
What else do you offer through the summer season?
As the season progresses, we will have peas, sweet onions, beets, kale, fingerling potatoes and smaller amounts of whatever else produces to excess in our personal garden.
What's your most popular product? What's your most remarked upon offering?
In the spring people really appreciate our tomato plants. We research lots of heirloom varieties and we do all of the transplanting ourselves. We can speak personally about each variety. Because we do not heat our greenhouses and we use farm compost, the plants are super hardy. We work hard in the garden throughout the summer, digging potatoes by hand and harvesting everything ourselves. People in Madison appreciate this hard work and personal knowledge. We both enjoy talking to customers and advising them about the best products for their particular uses. Sometimes this means sending customers to our "competitors," who are really our hard-working friends.
What's your favorite product elsewhere at the market?
We connect people with products, so we talk to others about raising produce. I like all the varieties of greens, the interesting heirloom veggies and the beautiful plants. Since we have dabbled in most farm products, we enjoy talking to new vendors who are just as excited as we were when we started. We tell them to keep that spirit of discovery and excitement because the Madison market is the best in the country.
What's your pre-packaged, supermarket-shelved guilty pleasure?
Confession time: Because we raise and freeze so much, we don't buy much at the market, especially anything that is edible. We do love ice cream, which is sometimes supper on Saturday nights, when we are too foggy to cook a real meal. We hedge on the guilt by telling ourselves that we are supporting the dairy industry and proving that Wisconsin has the happiest cows.
If you were to make a dish incorporating your products, what would you make?
The recipe is: Stuff chicken cavity with lemon slices, parsley and chopped onions Cook in a covered roaster at 350 degrees (20 minutes per pound) Uncover for the last twenty minutes Serve with green beans and a salad of cucumber and sweet onions in a light yogurt dressing