Celebrating 25 Years of the Carmel Farmers Market

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March 2023

This month, Carmel Monthly is pleased to feature the Carmel Farmers Market on the cover, and as a longtime media sponsor, we are thrilled to celebrate CFM’s 25th anniversary that will kick off this upcoming summer season.

We sat down with CFM President Ron Carter to reminisce on the early days of the market, highlight its growth and showcase its journey to becoming the area’s best farmers market. Carter attributes much of the market’s success to the exceptional CFM volunteer corps and vendors, whose dedication and passion for providing safe, fresh and local food to the community remains unwavering.

An Idea that Became a Reality

Carter ran for city council back in 1995 on the desire to develop the Monon rail trail in Carmel amid strong opposition. It was during one fateful city council meeting that Carter shared with the fellow council members, press and attendees his vision for the future of the rail trail. Having lived in the South for a period of time, Carter regularly read Southern Living Magazine. The publication had spotlighted a town in Georgia in a four-color spread that featured a rail trail and farmers market. He shared the highlights of that article at the council meeting and said that he could foresee the day when Carmel would have amenities such as these.

“I got a phone call about six months after that meeting from an IndyStar reporter who lived in Carmel and had an interest in Carmel as a resident in addition to having a journalist interest. She said, ‘I understand that you’re going to start a farmers market.’ I replied, ‘I am?’”

That reporter had been in the audience during that council meeting when Carter had shared his vision, and she suggested that Carter start a farmers market in Carmel. According to Carter, this reporter also expressed an interest in supporting the idea and that it would be well received by the community. Carter then charged her to find interested individuals to attend a meeting to discuss the possibility of organizing a farmers market.

“An article was written and published that called out for volunteers, and six people showed up,” Carter recalled. “None of us knew anything about starting a farmers market but were interested in the concept and in helping the community. This was before the benefits of the internet, so we started looking around for some source materials that would tell us how to get a farmers market started. We got 10 copies of a published three-ring binder titled, ‘How to Start a Farmers Market’ for $15 a copy. And the six of us who were at the first meeting read through the binders, came back together a month later and decided we could do this. And that’s really how it [the market] got started.”

The Early Days of CFM

Carter shared many memories of the early days of the farmers market and of the people who made it what it is today.

“At one of our [early] meetings, we needed a president, and there was a gentleman whose background was in the banking business with AFNB,” Carter shared. “The gentleman had started out as a teller and retired as executive vice president of what was then Bank One. He turned out to be a godsend, as far as being president of our market board [1999–2001]. We would not have the market that we have today had it not been for the expertise and organizational ability of Jim Keckley. He would also bring donuts for the [market] committee every Saturday morning, which is why we have ‘Jim Keckley Donut Day’ at the opening of every [CFM summer] season — in memory of Jim.”

While CFM was building its volunteer committee, it was also out amongst the community seeking support in the way of sponsorships. Brenwick Development got on board as an early CFM sponsor.

“George Sweet [Brenwick] stepped forward with $500 to help start the market,” Carter said. “George had such a great vision for the city and contributed so much to the [Carmel] community. And Mayor Brainard suggested that we have the market in the parking lot at City Hall. So, we had a little bit of seed money, a committee, and a place to hold the [market]. We then went to Ogle Design [Carmel], and Jon [Ogle] created our first CFM logo for us that went on our banners that we used to put up on the rails at the major intersections throughout Carmel. Those and the posters we put in some stores’ windows were how we advertised the market.”

Carter added, “The folks at IU Health have provided us with season sponsorship for well over a decade, and Pedcor has been one of the top sponsors for us as well. We’ve enjoyed really good relationships with people and sponsors who care about the community.”

Evolving Through the Decades

At the start of the market, Carter had invited eight vendors from the downtown Indianapolis market to join the market in Carmel. Some of the original vendors, such as the Phelps family, are still with CFM. The following season, the vendor count doubled to 16 and doubled again the following season to 32.

“When we got to 48 vendors the 4th season of the market, we were at our max, as far as space is concerned,” Carter said. “The city worked with us, as they always have.”

On May 7, 2011, the market moved to what is now the well-manicured and centrally located Carter Green [formerly Center Green], located on the campus of the Center For the Performing Arts and is immediately accessible to the Monon Greenway. The market continued to grow and currently boasts 70-plus vendors. CFM is the only farmers market in the area that provides electricity for each vendor as well as water to all four quadrants of the green. The market also provides ATM service on-site as well as seating for marketgoers to enjoy coffee, breakfast and an array of treats sold by the market vendors.

Additionally, the market hosts live entertainment and special events that have become beloved traditions for countless families and guests of the market. And many of the annual events that take place at the market engage local organizations and community partners such as the Carmel Fire Department with the annual Carmel Firehouse Cook-Off.

Throughout the decades, the Carmel Farmers Market has become more than just a “farmers market.” It is an experience. And as many discovered throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, CFM is an essential source for fresh, local and safe food. It is the only farmers market that remained open every Saturday for the duration of its season and was uninterrupted by supply line issues that drastically impacted supermarkets and big box stores. It is also a place for the community to come together and enjoy their Saturday mornings together, making memories and creating traditions while enjoying the first-class amenities, vendors, and hospitality of the CFM volunteers.

Carter added, “We look at our farmers market as being a ‘third place’ for Carmel. It is a place [for residents] to make memories every Saturday with their kids and grandchildren.”

CFM has also evolved into an incubator of sorts for many of its vendors, who have grown as a result of their exposure and sales at this market, and some have opened storefronts and bakeries as proof of their success.

Gearing Up For the 25th Opening Day

Although the CFM committee actively planning for its monumental opening day, Carter expressed that this is not only a year of celebration and reflection but also a time to plan for the next 25 years.

“It’s a time when we are needing volunteers, not because we don’t have a plethora of them but because if you’ve been with the group for 25 years, frankly, you might need a little break,” Carter stated. “We need people to bring ideas to the market that we as founders might not be thinking about or could be doing better. I hope that we’ll see this 25th anniversary as a year of volunteering at the market.”

The market broke its attendance record with an astounding 112,000 guests last year and is looking forward to another robust year to help commemorate its 25th anniversary.

There is going to be an abundance of things to see, taste and do at the Carmel Farmers Market this season. Don’t miss out on any of the events, entertainment and 70-plus vendors that help make this market the BEST summer farmers market in the state!

Be sure to join us for opening day on Saturday, May 6, at Carter Green! For more information about the Carmel Farmers Market, days/hours of operation, vendor list, entertainment lineup, and how you can get involved, visit carmelfarmersmarket.com.