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Atlanta State Farmer's Market gets new life

Marsha Thomas can remember the thriving early days of the Atlanta State Farmer's Market as a child, and now that she is a merchant at the facility, she said it is being rejuvenated.

Her father, Gabe Thomas, once was executive director of the Atlanta Produce Dealers Association. She said his association was among the groups to help get the market started. She now holds the post of executive director of the same group.

Thomas is also manager of the Georgia Grown Welcome Center and Gift Shop, at the market. She said new life is coming to the market in the form of improvements, and new businesses, to a facility that has spanned five decades at 16 Forest Parkway, in Forest Park.

The 150-acre facility even has a new white highway sign, with large green lettering, beckoning motorists traveling nearby Interstate 75, and the Forest Park Parkway.

"It is absolutely beautiful," said Thomas.

Two weeks ago, a new restaurant, Taco Rancho Mexican Taqueria, opened. A home and garden store called JAM'n Designs, opened a year ago, and is attracting clientele, Thomas said.

Space used by wholesale dealers is being renovated. Businesses are being expanded on site, to add more freezers and coolers, beamed Thomas. "It is just giving the folks out here more square footage," she said.

"The market needed to be updated, it is 51 years old now. It is a big revenue for the state, county [Clayton County] and Forest Park," said Nickey Gregory, owner of Nickey Gregory Company, LLC. He said his business began operations in 2000. It is a full-line produce distributor to Southeastern states, including Georgia, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, Alabama, Tennessee and Virginia.

Gregory said with the high price of fuel, trucks are delivering high quantities of produce to avoid additional trips, and wholesale businesses, at the market, are running out of space in their freezers and coolers. "It [renovation] is good," said Gregory.

Farmers are selling more of their products, added Thomas.

Paige Casey, of Hudson Orchard, a farm in Manchester, Ga., said the market is the right place to distribute the Alberta peaches from Hudson Orchard. Casey said she sells 25 pounds of peaches for $5 a case, seven days a week, from 4 a.m., to 4 p.m., and has witnessed an increase in consumer traffic. "It seems like locals are coming up to the market," said Casey.

Kelsie Bradley, said he has been selling produce from his family farm every summer, for 40 years. Though there are fewer farmers selling their fruits and vegetables, there is a larger demand from consumers, he said.

"There is a lot of emphasis on produce growing in Georgia, and again, the word gets around when items are less expensive," said Bradley. "I've had about a dozen people tell me this year is their first year coming to the Farmers Market."

"It's cheaper to buy produce here," said Charles McDonald, a patron from Winder, Ga. He said he is at the market almost every week.

Sharon Maxey, of Acworth, Ga., said she is a repeat customer of JAM'n Designs, a home and garden store that opened last year. She discovered it while shopping for plants earlier this summer.

JAM'n Designs' Co-owner Jeff Messerall, said he is realizing "lots of new business, thanks to the Farmers Market."

According to Maxey, it is difficult to find a store that sells good-quality ceramic pots. "He [Messerall] has got a huge selection ... It's a great atmosphere and brings a lot to the Farmers Market," she added.

The store also sells such items as water fountains, containers and lamps. It is open Tuesdays through Saturdays, from 10 a.m., to 5 p.m., and Sundays, from noon, to 5 p.m., and is located in shed No. 34 E, F and G, said Messerall.

The new market restaurant is attracting patrons, too. "It's been incredible with lines out the door," said Sarah Copp, an operator at Taco Rancho Mexican Taqueria. Her husband, Jose Rego, is the executive chef and part owner.

The restaurant serves breakfast and lunch, Monday, through Friday, from 5:30 a.m., to 3:30 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday, from 8 a.m., to 3 p.m. It is located in Building No. 38, at the market. The restaurant's prices range from $1, to $12.95.