PHOTOGRAPHY BY MARGAUX GIBBONS
Carmel-by-the-Sea Farmers’ Market comes into its own
To the casual observer, it seems like Carmel and farmers’ market should go together like organic peanut butter and artisan-made jelly. After all, in this foodie paradise, a weekly marketplace offering the best in local produce, baked goods, fresh flowers and boutique gifts would be a no-brainer, right?
But despite being in its ninth year, it’s only been recently that the Carmel-by-the-Sea Farmers’ Market has come into its own as a one-stop shopping experience.
On a recent unseasonably warm Thursday, you could hear the market even before you saw it. The buzz of conversation and live guitar music accompanied delicious aromas of coffee, baked goods and fragrant narcissus wafting through the air. Even though shoppers were masked and socially distanced, it was evident from their joyful attitude that walking through the market was giving them a much-needed respite from sheltering in place.
Last year, Good Roots Events took over management of the market. It is now being cultivated and curated by Good Roots founder Nile Estep and event manager/farm liaison Raul Lopez, who both grew up in Monterey County and have a deep love and knowledge of artisan-crafted products and certified organic produce.
“It’s really special for us to be part of this community, offering a place where people can safely gather and shop in the sunshine,” says Lopez, who got into farmers’ markets originally as a produce vendor.
Adds Estep, “We want this to have a boutique feel, but also to be welcoming to all members of the community. It’s a place where everyone’s invited.”
“A friendly sort of posh,” Lopez chimes in.
Estep, a 2009 graduate of Carmel High School, also got his start as a vendor at a farmers’ market selling gluten-free baked goods. After college and an internship with the American Red Cross, he rediscovered his passion and ended up taking over management of the Portola Valley Farmers’ Market. Now, his company Good Roots is making a difference— not just through its event planning, but also by taking farmers’ markets directly to the campuses of giant tech companies like Tesla and Facebook. Additionally, Good Roots gives back to surrounding communities by providing meals to those in need through churches, senior centers and community groups.
Estep is deeply committed to making sure people get fed, particularly underserved communities. Growing up as the child of a single mother who was a chef at the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas, Estep remembers their struggles to stay afloat, but he also says his mother made it a point to introduce him to a wide range of wonderful foods. “I want to make more local products affordable and accessible to more people,” Estep says. “Everyone should have access to good healthy foods.”
Taking on the Carmel-by-the-Sea market gives him an excuse to visit family more often as well as an opportunity to expand his business reach. For the city, it’s been a much-needed solution to ongoing issues with the market’s management.
Victoria Beach, the former Carmel City Councilmember who in 2012 led a committee to organize the farmers’ market, says the weekly event has been a work in progress over the years. The city had to move the location several times from its original spot in the Sunset Center parking lot. More problematic in previous years, she says, was that “we did not have management that believed in our vision.”
Even though the enterprise has had its growing pains, locals have appreciated having a farmers’ market in the heart of downtown Carmel.
“The community has been really thrilled to have it. They’ve been so supportive,” says Beach, who makes it a point to shop at the farmers’ market each week. Now, she says, with a young, energetic team at the helm who understand branding and establishing a clear identity for the market, “we’ve seen so many of the elements of our original vision come to fruition.”
That includes well-rounded offerings of organic produce, breads and pastries, live plants and flowers, local meats and seafood, eggs, cheeses, coffees and other blended drinks, honey, sweets and gift items—with emphasis on the bounty of the tri-county area. Among the well-known names at the market are Ad Astra Bread Co., Nitro Cycle 831, McLellan Botanicals and Coke Farm, with others such as Lion Springs Lavender Farm of Carmel Valley, and Bees Knees Bakery and Big Paw Olive Oil Co., both of Hollister, sure to become future favorites.
There’s also a joyful throwback vibe about the market—from the musicians providing a happy audio backdrop to the vintage trailer that doubles as an information booth, and numerous hand-lettered chalkboard signs pointing the way.
Just as important, says Beach, is the opportunity for local groups to make the market an information hub where residents can get help with everything from composting to voter registration.
That’s a concept that will be expanded later this year. Estep is now in talks with the city to hold a quarterly community event in Devendorf Park, right next to the market, to provide space for more organizations to get their message out to the public and other special activities in conjunction with the farmers’ market.
Estep and Lopez are appreciative of the support they’ve gotten from the city and residents, and are looking for ways to make the market even better going forward. They are choosing vendors based on “how they fit into the ecosystem of the market,” as Lopez puts it, and they’re looking forward to the warmer months when outdoor markets really shine.
For Beach, she’s just happy to be able to find her favorite fresh seafood at the market each week, as well as beautiful baskets of mushrooms at the Fungi Temple booth and local organic salad greens. Her daughter immediately runs to the Nitro beverage cart when they visit, and Beach welcomes the chance to say hello to people she knows.
“I saw an old and dear friend recently at the market, and it was so exciting—I hadn’t seen her for so long. We talked for 45 minutes in the street,” says Beach. “The social aspect is irreplaceable.”
Carmel-by-the-Sea Farmers’ Market
Mission at Ocean, Thursdays 10am–2pm
Another project from the energetic Niles Estep is a new creative space in Monterey called The Shop—which has become a cauldron of creativity encompassing everything from food to crafts to visual arts.
Launched last year with partners Jessica Ansberry and Chris Powers, The Shop is a buzzy blend of collaboration and community, with food purveyors such as Nitro Cycle 831, MylkMaid, Little Luna Cheese Boards, Coastin Pizza and Parsley+Fig taking their businesses to the next level in its commissary kitchen.
The Shop also o ers valuable work space to artisan crafters like Johnny Foster, who sells his fragrant soy candles at the Carmel-by-the-Sea Farmers’ Market, and to artists-in-residence like Sophia Eliana, Mike Mattox and Arsenio Baca, among others. Podcasts and videocasts are being recorded in a brand-new studio as well.
Estep says much of what is done at The Shop feeds into his farmers’ market business, with designers and printers available there as well as food and craft vendors who are looking for markets where they can sell their products.
For Mike Baroni, owner of the mobile drink cart Nitro Cycle 831, The Shop gives him the room he needs to bottle his products—something his one-man business wasn’t able to do previously.
Baroni has introduced bottled matcha, oat milk latte and guava lemonade, among other drinks, which could be sold at local grocery stores and other retailers. Not only that, bottling o ers the chance to do some new and exciting beverages: “It’s a way to kick things up a notch.”
Estep says his goal is to make the space accessible and a ordable, renting it on a sliding scale depending on the hours it’s used. “It’s a place where food creators can test out an idea, and then I can help them nd a place where it can be sold,” he says.
1271 10th St., Monterey