May 2018 Writer \/\/ Janelle Morrison\u00a0\u00a0\u00a0\u00a0\u00a0\u00a0\u00a0 Photography \/\/ Jennifer Hershberger What began as merely a suggestion more than 20 years ago has become significantly more than just an annual event. The Carmel Farmers Market is a beloved tradition that best represents the ideals \u2013 live, work and play \u2013 in the heart of Carmel. The Carmel Farmers Market is produced and managed by \u201ccommunity-minded\u201d volunteers and is headed up by an equally dedicated leadership team led by the market\u2019s president, Ron Carter, and vice president, Deborah Schmitz. We sat down with Carter and Schmitz to reflect back over the last two decades and recall the genesis of the market. The Early Days The market formally organized and opened its first season in May 1998. Carter, who had been elected to city council in 1996, had received a telephone call from a local resident and journalist who worked for the IndyStar. She had charged Carter with the task of starting a farmers market and pledged to write an article calling for volunteers to assist with the efforts. Carter, who had no previous knowledge of starting, let alone running, a farmers market was going to embark on a journey that would result in managing one the largest farmers markets in the Midwest. \u201cThe reporter said she\u2019d write an article, and so she did,\u201d Carter recalled. \u201cThe article was about the need for volunteers to start a farmers market in Carmel. Consequently, we got six people to show up for an organizational meeting. Among those six people was Jim Keckly. Keckly was a retired banker whose wife had passed away, and he thought it would be kind of fun. Fast forward, we have another meeting, and admittedly, none of us know anything about starting a farmers market. It was the pre-website era, so I cast around for some resources and made some calls. I called Purdue University, and they referred me to a professor at Michigan State who had written a book just so happened titled, \u201cHow to Start a Farmers Market.\u201d Carter said the book was available as a three-ring binder and was available for $15 per copy. He went to Mayor Brainard and asked if the city could spare $115 to get 10 copies of this book. \u201cHe was very supportive,\u201d Carter said. \u201cWe each read the book and said, \u2018We can do this.\u2019 The meeting after that, we got organized and asked which of us was going to be the chairperson. It was one of those typical meetings where no one really stepped forward, and there was that awkward silence. Finally, Jim Keckly said, \u2018I guess I could do it.\u2019 We were extremely fortunate, and it really was a godsend that he agreed. Jim had mentioned in the first meeting that he had been in the banking business. He started out at the old Fletcher Trust Company and retired 44 years later as the executive vice president of Bank One. We really didn\u2019t know what we were getting in the way of this excellent executive and outstanding volunteer.\u201d Carter continued, \u201cHe really got us off and running and was a really great first president of this market. Every Saturday, he would be the first one there. It didn\u2019t matter how hot or cool it was. He was there, and he always had a dozen donuts for his committee. That\u2019s why we have \u2018Jim Keckly Donut Day\u2019 to open the market each year so as to honor his memory.\u201d The market began with eight full-time vendors and opened its first season in the south parking lot of Carmel\u2019s City Hall. The next year, the market grew to 16 vendors and to 32 the year after that. By the fifth year, the market had grown to 48 full-time vendors and was at max capacity. \u201cWe modeled our structure by what a market in Minneapolis, Minnesota, does,\u201d Carter explained. \u201cThat market has a \u2018friends\u2019 group and an operating market group. The Carmel Farmers Market is an Indiana not-for-profit corporation. We have a second corporation called the Friends of Carmel Farmers Market, which is a 501(c)(4). As I say, the City has always been supportive, but we don\u2019t take any dollars from the City. They help us in other ways. One of those ways was to make sure that when the Center Green was being built, we were able to get that designed, so that the area would accommodate the market and other events that might possibly take place there. We have one of the finest market venues of any in the country.\u201d The Volunteers and Vendors Upon the completion of the Center Green, the Carmel Farmers Market was eager to call the venue its home. Each vendor space has electricity, and the venue allows for ample configuration of vendor spaces. \u201cWe act like an apartment development,\u201d Carter said. \u201cIf a vendor wants a 3-bedroom or 2-bedroom, we\u2019ve got it. If they only want a 1-bedroom, we\u2019ve got it. If a vendor doesn\u2019t need a large 20x40 space, we offer a 20x20 space, and it has worked out very well for us and the vendors.\u201d While a market can\u2019t function without quality vendors, the volunteers are the heart and soul. Carter and Schmitz spoke about how valuable the market\u2019s volunteer core is to the success of the market. \u201cThe market couldn\u2019t happen without its group of really dedicated volunteers,\u201d Carter emphasized. \u201cWe have fun together and do things socially outside of the market. We have a herd of amazing volunteers who work very hard to make sure the market runs.\u201d Schmitz added, \u201cYou have to put your heart into it. We as volunteers put our hearts into it every Saturday.\u201d The market will have 67 vendors this season, some of whom have been a part of the market since its inception. \u201cWe\u2019ve been very loyal to our vendors,\u201d Carter said. \u201cWe expect our vendors to be with us every Saturday, so that our guests can expect to see the same vendors every week.\u201d The Carmel Farmers Market is an Indiana grown or produced market. The products have to be grown or produced in-state unless it\u2019s something that can\u2019t be grown in Indiana like coffee and salmon. The purveyors themselves must be Indiana-based. \u201cWe have a vendor relations committee that is headed up by Deborah ,\u201d Carter stressed. \u201cWe pay their mileage expenses to travel around the state and visit our vendors to make sure that what they are planting or producing is what they will be selling at the market. That\u2019s one of the volunteer benefits \u2013 there are some really good meals that come out of these visits sometimes.\u201d Schmitz added, \u201cOur vendors enjoy it so much, and they often ask us, \u2018When are you going to come back out again?\u2019 They are excited to show us how they\u2019ve grown.\u201d \u201cI\u2019ve always said it\u2019s the most expensive committee that I\u2019ve ever worked on,\u201d Carter jested. \u201cThe reason is that you\u2019re there almost every Saturday morning from 6 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. if you work a full shift, and you\u2019re exposed to all of this wonderful food and product.\u201d \u00a0The Market Culture \u201cIt\u2019s a self-fulfilling prophecy that more and more people have moved to Carmel for the amenities that we have, and the amenities have matured and grown along with the population of the city,\u201d Carter observed. \u201cWe try to do the best job with the market and provide a really good value and experience for the people coming to the market, not only from the food standpoint but from a fun standpoint with the music, the venue and the volunteers.\u201d The market is one of the city\u2019s major attractions and social events throughout the season, attracting an average of 4,000 people during its hours of operation each Saturday. Many market-goers bike to the market as well. The venue\u2019s designated bicycle parking has made cyclists feel like a welcomed addition to the market crowd. Many \u201cspecial events\u201d take place each month throughout the market season, including the Firehouse Cook-off where Carmel Fire Department\u2019s six stations compete in a cook-off against one another for the winning title and bragging rights. The Carmel Police Department hosts a day advocating and recruiting for its Citizens Academy. The market\u2019s title sponsor, IU Health, hosts a health screening day, and Purdue University, a silver sponsor, has \u201cPurdue Day\u201d at the market. New this year on May 19, the market will host the \u201cBig Green Egg Fest\u201d presented by O'Malia\u2019s Living from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Local chefs and grilling enthusiasts will exhibit their Big Green Egg expertise. \u201cThis is a quintessential third place,\u201d Carter concluded. \u201cWe\u2019ve lost so many third places throughout our country. In eastern seaboard cities, third places were the local neighborhood taverns where everybody was equal, and people could sit down and talk. Everyone\u2019s opinion was valued, and it was a place of social gathering. We don\u2019t have many of those for the most part anymore, but this we do have, and it is a big third place.\u201d For more information on the market, including hours, special events and other market-related news, visit Carmelfarmersmarket.com. Please note: there is ample FREE parking at both the Booth Tarkington Civic Theatre Garage and Veterans Way Garage. Both are in close proximity to the market.