Atlanta: A Tour of the International Produce at Buford Highway Farmers Market
When I heard "farmers market," I first pictured an open-air market with a patchwork of vendors selling fruits, veggies, pickles, and cheeses. This is not that. The Buford Highway Farmers Market is a 100,000 square-foot grocery megastore, about Costco-sized, open seven days a week, and it's insane. If there was a Nobel Prize for markets, this would absolutely deserve to win.
Since 1974, the BHFM has been stocking all sorts of international foods for the people of Atlanta. Owner Harold Shinn's family first focused on Asian foods, especially Korean, but as the city's population diversified—particularly along the sprawl of Buford Highway—so did the market's offerings. You'll now find goods from Mexico, Central and South America, the Caribbean, West Africa, Japan, China, Thailand, Vietnam, the Philippines, Eastern Europe and beyond.
To understand this variety you have to understand the actual highway's history a bit. Drive along the seven-lane artery—that runs six miles from Atlanta to Buford, GA—and you'll pass a melange of mom-and-pop businesses. Restaurants, salons, and other retail spaces—more than 1,000 immigrant-owned businesses—all clustered in strip malls. Like other American cities, such as Houston and Los Angeles, Atlanta experienced an influx of new immigration that moved straight to the suburbs where housing was cheaper.
At the highway's intersection with I-285, the BHFM sits before a giant parking lot. (Beware on Saturdays and Sundays; this place is packed to the rafters.) Inside, it's like the Epcot of grocery stores. Name another market where you can find Thai bananas, fresh kimchi, Gulf oysters, Eastern European pastries, a 30-pound bag of Japanese rice, and Georgia-grown peanuts, all in one shopping trip. (Yeah, thought so.)
The produce section greets you first. It took me nearly an hour to get through this piece of the market, and I could have easily killed another hour here. Every corner, every color, every fruit or veg variety you never knew existed—it's mesmerizing.
Take the eggplant aisle: Sicialian, Dominican, Indian, Thai eggplants, and other varieties all lined up next to each other, in various shades of the indigo continuum (and one green). Move over to bananas. You want a banana? Well, there are Thai bananas, red bananas, green bananas, Burro bananas, baby bananas...and "regular" bananas. What even are regular bananas anymore?! Welcome to Bananalandia.
All of the produce labels tell you the variety of the produce, and where it was grown. A Thai guava sold here, for example, wasn't actually grown in Thailand; this one came from Florida. Most of the international produce sold at BHFM is grown in the U.S., Mexico, or Central and South America.
And this isn't even the whole market. There's more to BHFM than just the produce section. Much, much more. But that's if you can ever peel yourself away from this produce playground (which was very challenging for me). Anyone who calls this their regular grocery store: I am extremely jealous.
Buford Highway Farmers Market
5600 Buford Highway NE, Doraville, GA 303040 (map)