While produce is affordable, it’s difficult to understand what can be purchased as single items and what must be bought in bulk, sometimes requiring a tax ID. A large watermelon is $6 here. It costs $5.99 at Piggly Wiggly (as of August 2021).
There’s also a landscaping and plant nursery in the back lot, and two locations of the same Mexican restaurant. To the right of the main thoroughfare, buried deep in the warehousing district, a nondescript grocery store sells products in bulk. It’s cash-only and closed on Sundays.
When Bambie Hayes-Brown, PhD, moved to Forest Park in December 2017, she was excited to hear of the nearby state market after being a regular at Your DeKalb Farmers Market. Upon arrival, she found there was no clear signage on where to go.
“I went down to what was a dead end. I thought, ‘This isn’t it. I don’t think I’m supposed to be here,’” she recalls. “Eventually I found the store. The store didn’t have a good selection, and low quality — some of it looked spoiled. You could only buy in bulk, but there’s only three of us [in my house].”
After two disappointing visits, Hayes-Brown hasn’t been back. Her sentiments are echoed by other residents Canopy Atlanta spoke to, who said, “I don’t think it’s for me” or “It’s too complicated to navigate.”
“I’m originally from South Georgia,” Hayes-Brown says. “When I think of farmers markets, I think about the farmers market that we have back home, where you have local farmers growing fruits and vegetables. The fruits and vegetables don’t have to travel far for it to be sold at the market. And there’s so much variety. This isn’t the same.”
The primary customer demographic for this market shifted drastically after it was moved from its original location, in southwest Atlanta, to Forest Park in 1958. It was once seen as a local attraction, with “meet the farmer” days and annual festivals, all lacking in the present iteration.
The DOA prioritized the hub in recent years to serve wholesale distributors, with little attention paid to the everyday consumer. An exit sign on I-75 still lists “Forest Park/Farmers Mkt,” but finding the market among the warehouses on Forest Parkway is tricky now, made more challenging by its new name: Atlanta/Clayton County Produce Terminal and Market. The name was changed, without much public fanfare, in 2019.
According to DOA Director of Marketing Paul Thompson, this new moniker better represents the “terminal market for the Southeast U.S.”
It also steers the farmers market further away from the idea of serving the community via pedestrian-friendly stalls selling local produce, and more toward wholesale distribution. The agency measures how many semitrucks come through the market each day, but doesn’t have metrics on foot traffic from patrons. The market sees 120 to 140 trucks a day carrying what the DOA claims is “millions of pounds of produce,” much of it already sold to distributors upon arrival.
Customers navigate by car rather than on foot when purchasing produce here. There are no sidewalks. Vehicles weave between each other in crowded corridors lined with stalls, not unlike the departures area at nearby Hartsfield-Jackson (reinforced by the sound of noisy, low-flying planes preparing to land).
For those without access to a car, MARTA bus 195 runs every 45 to 60 minutes along Forest Parkway, stopping near the entrance to the market. At times, people who take the bus must cross a four-lane highway, walk 10 minutes downhill with a cart to carry produce, and avoid cars once the sidewalk ends halfway down the hill.