An Ode to Buford Highway Farmers Market

Author & Photographer: Wendy Zheng

I love being home. Although I’ve lived in the metro Atlanta area my entire life prior to college, home doesn’t necessarily require multiple streets named Peachtree or cruising on the 6 on Lake Shore. Home, to me, means a space where I feel secured enough to be vulnerable, reassured enough to embrace the unexpected, and supported enough that even failure brings signs of comfort. No matter where I go, grocery stores are my home -- a place to explore without any inhibition or self doubt. I’m fortunate to have grown up around a variety of well-stocked, affordable grocery stores that have allowed my family to both test our palettes and recreate the dishes from my parents’ childhood in North and Northwest China. However, despite the comprehensive produce selection at Your Dekalb Farmers Market and killer buffalo chicken tender subs at Publix, Buford Highway Farmers Market is the cream of the crop of Atlanta’s grocery store selection, with its extensive international selection, consistently high quality products, and remarkable service.

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Buford Highway Farmers Market is simultaneously a telling and misleading name. The store is located on the intersection of Interstate 285 and -- you guessed it -- Buford Highway; however, the space is nothing like your typical street side weekend farmers market with a few stalls selling brussel sprouts and gourmet cheese to primarily upper class white clientele. Opened in 1974 by Korean second-generation immigrant Harold Shin, Buford Highway Farmers Market is a 100,000 square foot grocery megastore with a gargantuan produce section, a seafood counter as lively and large as a bustling auction, and 34 block long aisles that are filled to the brim with specialty imported goods from every corner of the world. The aisles are divided by nationality, ranging from Swedish to Peruvian to Korean, each row like its own ethnic grocery store covering both daily mainstays like Japanese instant dashi and Ghanaian palm nut cream and specialties like Russian young walnut jam and Indonesian dried soursop leaves. Not only is the grocery assortment stunning, but Buford Highway Farmers Market also has a wide variety of prepared food choices, including a fully stocked Eastern European deli and bakery with every imaginable type of pickled vegetable, a speciality soondae and banchan stall, and a food court with crepes, poffertjes, and lamb rogan josh.

The market’s extensive international selection at reasonable prices owes itself to its location. It’s surrounded by over a thousand other independently owned immigrant businesses dispersed amongst the row of strip malls along a six mile stretch on Buford Highway between Atlanta and Buford. Although most people think of Buford Highway only as a place to get a good meal, it’s much more than that -- it’s a place where over 50,000 refugees and immigrants exhaustingly carved out a neighborhood that centers their stories and lifestyles despite the racially charged resistance from neighboring communities, high rates of traffic safety incidents, and dearth of financial resources. Despite the rapid gentrification and displacement of other minority working class areas in Atlanta, Buford Highway Farmers Market and its namesake neighborhood have unwaveringly supported immigrant groups to maintain their own space for the last 45 years, providing the familiar ingredients and tastes for all to feel comforted and loved -- to feel at home.

Melanie WangComment