I live in Chattanooga and this blog is a resource for other Chattanoogans trying to cut back on their waste. However, Atlanta is one of the closest large cities and we Chattanoogans sometimes find ourselves driving through it 🙂
I recently checked out the Buford Hwy Farmers market since it was right on my way when I had to drive through Atlanta. I originally went because I thought they might have package-free tofu (they don’t), but ended up finding a fun place to experience foods from different cultures. My overall take is that it’s an exciting place to shop for produce and a few key items if you live nearby, but it wasn’t zero-waste-awesome enough to justify a long drive just to do your regular shopping.
First of all, “farmer’s market” doesn’t describe this place, think more “international market.” It is HUGE and is divided into different ethnic foods. There is Korean, Vietnamese, Latino, Turkish, English, Greek, and lots of others. The American section completes the ethnic array with its Lunchables and Coca-Cola. I imagine that someone from a different country living in Atlanta might find much comfort in being able to find a special item from home.
Walking into the produce section made the whole stop worth it for me. There are fruits, vegetables, and roots from all over the world. Our family eats whole food plant based, and this section was a dream! They even had a few items that are hard to come by unpackaged, such as celery and grapes. Bring your reusable produce bags to avoid the plastic bags provided. My daughters and I had fun picking out a few things we had never eaten before to try out. Who knew yuca root was so yummy!?
They had a wide assortment of fresh herbs packaged only with a twisty tie–which is much less than the usual plastic clamshell fresh herbs often come it.
Most of the produce was not organic. There was a small organic section, but like many organic foods, they had more packaging than their non-organic counterparts.
I did check out the vegan section, and as per usual, everything was in plastic. However, I did find the least-packaged tofu I’ve ever found (other than that I make myself). Most tofu is sold in fairly small blocks in a hard white plastic with a plastic film on top. Putting two different types of plastic together usually renders the whole thing unrecyclable. This tofu was homemade and came in 1 pound blocks. It was wrapped only in a single plastic bag that could be repurposed and perhaps recycled. They don’t always have it, so it would be good to call ahead. I went ahead and bought a bag. It is enough to make 3 different meals for my family as a special treat. I think if I lived nearby, I would still try to make tofu myself when possible. There was also no information about whether the soybeans were organic or non-GMO, or if they were grown sustainably (vs in a country where deforestation is making way for soy).
If you eat fish, they did have an impressive fresh fish section. Often fish fillets are frozen and wrapped in package twice, but not here. Most people were getting their fish in plastic bags, but I bet you could have them put it in your own container. There was no information about the sustainability of their supplier’s fishing techniques, however, which is probably a bigger issue than whether or not your fish is wrapped in plastic.
Much of the items in the store were in plastic, and although it was fun to peruse the shelves and see all the exotic items, it was disappointing to not be able to buy most of it.
Sprinkled throughout the store, however, are many items that are certainly more low-waste than traditional stores. There are literally thousands of items in this humongous store, so I’m sure I’m missing some things, but here were a few options that are at least lower-waste.
Another item not pictured was a brand of organic, whole wheat pasta that came in a cardboard box with only a small plastic window. Often pasta that is both whole wheat and organic (both important for me) comes in a plastic bag, so this was a good find.
The spices section was disappointing with everything in a plastic clamshell. If your only other option was small plastic bottles found at Walmart, then it would at least be a step up. But shopping at a place like EarthFare with its bulk spices would be a much better and cheaper option (check out my post on buying bulk spices here). Or, joining a buying group to place orders directly from Frontier Co-op or Mountain Rose Herbs would also be a good option (although more expensive than EarthFare).
Suggestions from another zero-waster from Atlanta who regularly shops there:
-Maseca corn flour for DIY tortillas and empanadas and arepas. Comes wrapped in paper. Found in the Latin Section.
-Loose leaf tea in aluminum tins, found in the Tea section and the China/Korea section.
-Kikkoman soy sauce in a large aluminum container. It has a small plastic cap but it saves purchasing 10 caps on the glass bottles.
One other zero-waster mentioned she found the meat section to have an off-smell and preferred not to buy her meat there.
So, in review, this isn’t a place where you will find all of your zero-waste needs. There is a Whole Foods about 10-15 minutes away (depending on traffic of course!) and I would recommend buying most of your dry pantry items from the bulk bins there (beans, flour, rice, snacks, ect). The prices seemed comparable to the items at the Buford Hwy Farmer’s Market–especially comparing the WF non-organic bulk items. But if you live in the area or are driving through anyway, it is certainly a fun place to stop. If you have a few “problem” items that you cannot find zero-waste (like tofu for me!), this might be a place where you could at least find a less-waste option since they have such a huge selection of items.
And of course, don’t forget your reusable bags for when you check out!
Do you shop at Buford’s Farmers Market? If so, please comment below on what you buy there to reduce your waste!