Comer Farmers' Market

Project Overview

Project Type: Sustainable Community Innovation
Funds awarded in 2004: $10,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2007
Region: Southern
State: Georgia
Principal Investigator:
Tina McCollough
Comer Farmers' Market

Annual Reports


Not commodity specific


  • Farm Business Management: economic/marketing

    Proposal abstract:

    Introduction (Comer Farmers' Market

    Comer, Georgia (population 1052) is the second and largest of four railroad towns in Madison County. Incorporated in 1893 and named for the early settler A.J. Comer, it began as a small community and developed as a result of the railroad’s introduction. Comer is unique in the county for its large and varied number of historic properties; in fact, the Comer Historic District (designated in 1995) covers most of the town, totaling 174 properties. Over the last 30 years, however, the city center had become increasingly derelict. While the downtown area still drew shoppers to the bank and other small businesses, historic buildings that once housed thriving enterprises were deserted and rapidly becoming eyesores. At the same time, in a county dominated by agribusiness, local farmers had no established marketplace in which they could sell their fresh, locally grown produce to their neighbors.
    Today, downtown Comer is being transformed. Change and revitalization began three years ago with an influx of individuals and couples who bought and restored downtown buildings, creating spaces they use for both commercial and residential purposes. In the last three years, 14 buildings within a 2-block radius in the downtown historic district have been purchased and are in the process of being renovated. Over $2.5 million has already been spent. New businesses downtown include a photography studio, an art gallery and pottery studio, an antiques store, children’s clothing store, climate-controlled storage, and a restaurant. To re-establish the city center as a viable shopping district, a group comprised of both new residents and established local leaders began to meet together to discuss ideas for downtown development. Seeking a way to bring people back to downtown while also providing a place for community gatherings, in June 2002, they established the Comer Farmers’ Market.
    The efficacy of farmers’ markets in promoting economic development in rural areas is well-established. According to one study conducted by Loyola University, a farmers’ market begun by the University’s ECOnomics Institute to bring produce from the surrounding region into New Orleans has an economic impact on the region totaling more than $1 million a year. On average, farmers who participate in Loyola’s farmers’ market take home $391 per week, for an annual income of over $20,000 per year just from the market. In addition, in its first three years, the Crescent City Farmers’ Market resulted in the creation of 15 new businesses and 22 new jobs.
    The Comer Farmers’ Market was organized to attempt to replicate this type of positive economic impact. The purpose of the Comer Farmers’ Market is to support local growers in the Broad River Watershed, which is comprised of Banks, Clarke, Elbert, Franklin, Habersham, Hart, Jackson, Madison, Oglethorpe, Stevens and Wilkes counties. The Market was originally operated in a parking lot in downtown Comer and was an immediate success, with the participation of 5 local farms and several local artists, craftspeople, and non-profit organizations. Vendors sold seasonal produce, pottery, plants, and other artwork. Encouraged by a successful first season, organizers of the Comer Farmers’ Market met to discuss what could be done to improve conditions and find a facility to house the Market.
    With the help of a local investor, a building that had once served as an agricultural machinery storage barn and railroad weigh station was purchased as the new home for the Comer Farmers’ Market. In the last year, the building has been re-roofed, re-sided, painted, landscaped, and paved. A stage has been built at one end of the building for performers, and lighting and fans have been installed. The Market began its second year on May 3, 2003 in the newly renovated building across the street from the original site.
    In its second season, the Market has averaged 12 vendors with offerings including local seasonal produce, aromatherapy products, plants, pottery, glasswork, jewelry, baskets, and handmade stationery. A number of local musicians have provided entertainment. Average attendance on Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. has been approximately 150.
    Vendors at the Market are required to live in the Broad River Watershed area, and products must be produced by the vendor on his/her farming operation or handcrafted by the vendor without commercial means. No resale of items purchased elsewhere is allowed. Vendors who sell for profit pay weekly dues of $10.00 per booth, and not-for-profit vendors pay $5.00 per booth.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Objectives (Comer Farmers' Market)

    Organizers of the Market are excited by the community’s response and are eager to take advantage of the momentum created in the last two years. What is needed to expand and enhance the success of the Farmers’ Market is seed money that will be used to:
    support activities that will connect local growers with the community through increased education and promotion,
    create promotional materials that can be used to recruit additional growers and other vendors,
    support training programs that will educate both growers and consumers, and
    provide opportunities for existing organizations with overlapping goals to work together productively.

    These activities will build on the current success of the Farmers’ Market by drawing even more participants and vendors during Market hours. The community will begin to truly take ownership of the Market and to expand use of the building. In addition, through classroom presentations, presentations to local civic groups, informational materials and training seminars, the community will become better educated about the agricultural and natural resources in the Broad River Watershed.

    To expand and enhance the current Comer Farmers’ Market and create more community awareness, the following activities will be funded:
    1. The Market Manager will gather and develop informational materials to make available to civic groups and in classrooms, explaining the purpose of the Market and the benefits of supporting local growers. Other materials will be developed on seasonal eating and the health benefits of fresh produce.
    2. More and better signage will be purchased and installed to make the Market more easily accessible.
    3. The Market Manager, working with the Downtown Development Association and the Broad River Watershed Association, will develop a Powerpoint presentation to be used with local civic groups, in area classrooms, with local government groups, and to recruit additional vendors and growers.
    4. Training programs will be offered to local growers. For example, a new restaurant that is currently under construction near the Market will contain a certified commercial kitchen that the owner will make available to certified growers and vendors who would like to sell value-added products. Vendors will need Serv-Safe training in order to be certified to produce and sell such products. Other training programs that can be offered include training to allow vendors to receive WIC vouchers and training on year-round growing.
    5. Training seminars will also be offered to the public in seasonal eating and whole foods cooking.
    6. Meetings will be organized to bring together local business leaders, legislators, members of the Downtown Development Association, and members of the Broad River Watershed Association in order to formulate a strategic plan for the next five years to build on the success of the Market.
    7. Meetings will also be organized to plan activities that will link downtown businesses with the Market, including a concert series with local musicians, gallery shows and a community festival.

    A preliminary timeline for these activities follows:

    January – March 2004 Promotional and educational materials are developed and printed. Signage for the Market is purchased and installed.

    March – Sept. 2004 Advertising is done for the third season; presentations are made to school and civic groups; additional vendors are recruited.

    June 5, 2004 Comer Farmers’ Market opens.

    Sept. – Dec. 2004 Presentations are made to area groups and schools. Meetings and discussions take place with Downtown Development Association, Chamber of Commerce, Broad River Watershed Association to discuss strategic plan.

    Jan. – May 2005 Serv-Safe training is offered; seminars are offered through the county extension agency; plans are made for Spring Concert Series and other linking activities with local businesses like gallery showings and a community festival.

    June 2005 Comer Farmers’ Market opens.
    Summer and Fall 2005 Ongoing activities are planned to connect downtown businesses and to recruit additional community volunteers and vendors.

    Primarily, the $10,000 proposed budget will be used for part-time salaries, some operational costs, and meeting and materials purchases. The proposed budget breaks down over a two-year period in this manner:

    Salary $4000
    Part-time Market Manager $3000
    Part-time Grant Manager $1000
    The Market Manager will take primary responsibility for developing educational and promotional materials, for recruiting vendors and for making presentations. The Grant Manager will oversee all other grant activities, including organizing regular volunteer meetings, strategic planning meetings and joint association meetings.

    Supplies $3000
    These funds will be used for printing of brochures, fliers and other informational handouts. In addition, signage will be purchased, and copies of the Powerpoint presentation will be made and distributed.

    Contracts $2000
    These funds will be used to pay costs for Serv-Safe training and other seminars.

    Operating $1000
    These funds will pay any incidental costs for meeting expenses, including refreshments as needed for working lunches or training programs.


    “Farmers Market Stimulates Regional Economic Development, Study Shows,” September 24, 1999,

    Floyd, Allison, “Comer’s Downtown Experiencing Growth,” Athens Banner Herald, September 1, 2003,

    “Madison County,” Georgia Snapshots and Community Profiles, Geogia Department of Community Affairs,

    McClaskey, Tabatha, “Farmers Market Now Open,” The Comer News, June 6, 2002. p. 1.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.