You might see Larry Johnson around the Capitol Square with his clipboard and green apron and hat on Saturday mornings. From April through November, he’s there helping set up stalls, chatting with vendors, collecting money and solving problems at the Dane County Farmers’ Market.
Johnson, 63, is in his eighth season as manager of the market — he manages the Wednesday and cold-weather indoor markets as well — and says it’s a “year-round, full-time job.”
You said you grew up on a farm in Kansas. How does that play into what you do now at the market?
It’s a combination of farm background and management background. I know crops, I know people, I know about growing. I’m also a grower, and it’s just a good fit.
What do you grow?
I grow cut flowers. I don’t sell them at the market because I’m too busy. I sell them to florists.
Why do you think it’s important for people to come to places such as this and buy local fresh ingredients?
The farmers’ market is unique because the customer has the chance to have a one-on-one relationship with the vendor. Grocery stores certainly have good food, but here you can actually talk to the vendor, find out how the product was grown and how to fix it, and the stories — all the vendors have stories. It’s great relationship building.
What is the hardest part about this job?
Getting up and being on the square by 4:15 every Saturday morning.
Do you get to sample or buy products as you’re walking around?
I talk to every single vendor every single day just to check in, and sometime I do sample some of the products.
What would you recommend?
They’re all good.
When you buy food, do you tend to buy local ingredients?
I do, although my wife does most of the buying, and I do the dishes at my place.
Do you cook?
No, very little.
How does the Dane County Farmers’ Market compare to other farmers’ markets?
We are one of the largest producer-only markets in the country, and by that I mean that the person behind the table must produce the product and it must be in Wisconsin. We have 160 to 180 vendors every Saturday, and that’s pretty impressive. Some (farmers markets) don’t have the same size, some of them allow a re-sale. We don’t allow any re-sale here at all.
What is one of your favorite foods?