The quizzical smell... once described as a "fecund overload of fish heads and wet mops," permeates the air.
May 24, 2012 12:40 PM   Subscribe

Your Dekalb Farmer's Market is a favorite MeFi recommendation to Atlanta tourists. If you've ever been curious about the backstory to this local institution, Creative Loafing recently published a fascinating history of the store, with a photo slideshow covering 24 hours in the life of the market. This comes as a new phase of expansion is proposed.
posted by amelioration (33 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
Yay! I was just reading this earlier. I love this place (and live only 2 miles from it), but it is so overwhelming that I usually go to Kroger instead.
posted by hydropsyche at 12:42 PM on May 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Despite having gone there for years, I only just recently ate at their buffet/cafeteria a few weeks back. Cheap and delicious (the spicy cauliflower was a particular standout).

I also just recently discovered their guacamole sticks in the snack aisle. Dangerously delicious.

If you've never been, it's worth going for both the people-watching and the gargantuan spice wall in equal measure.
posted by SomaSoda at 12:49 PM on May 24, 2012

I grew up in Decatur, but had a good twenty year or so hiatus between going to the market with my mom in the late 80s and early 90s and going there in the past few years.

Walking in was like getting bludgeoned in the face with memory. The place is big, but it seemed so much bigger riding in the cart, looking up at all the flags from around the world. The cold air, the strange smells. Going into the checkout area, with the rows of plywood register boxes was like being four years old again.

The place is an institution, one we should be proud of. Especially because you can fill a buggy with produce for under $100. Which reminds me, I have two cases of mangos sitting at home, over-ripening. I'll BRB.
posted by gone2croatan at 12:49 PM on May 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

Amen! Your Dekalb Farmer's Market and the Buford Highway Farmers Market offer spices spectacularly inexpensively. I loaded up before departing Atlanta recently.
posted by jeffburdges at 12:50 PM on May 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've never found Chanterelles anyplace else in Atlanta. Very good cheese selection. And they recently had spectacular yellow mangos.
posted by jeffburdges at 12:54 PM on May 24, 2012

And the Eden Farms bacon? OH MY WORD. It is meat candy.
posted by gone2croatan at 12:56 PM on May 24, 2012

This place is a staple of my childhood and a place I don't get to often enough as an adult. I remember nothing was better than their french bread and a block of sharp cheddar from there as a treat as a kid. I was a weird child.
posted by strixus at 1:15 PM on May 24, 2012

Does it explain the black dots and white dots on the names tags? Because that has always been my favorite source of DFM conspiracy theories.
posted by Panjandrum at 1:16 PM on May 24, 2012

Cheap and wide array of spices, huge bundles of fresh herbs for dirt cheap...
Seriously, because of this grocery store (which is rather close to where I first moved to when I moved out of the 'rents), I ate spectacularly healthy and well on a lot less than I had been.
Never thought I could be a fan of a grocery store until I went there as an adult (been there for yeeeears, because I know my mom took me there as a kid), and yes. Yes, one can be a fan of a grocery store.
posted by neewom at 1:17 PM on May 24, 2012

This place is one of the biggest things that makes me miss living in Decatur pretty horribly. My cabinets are still stocked with spices from YDFM, 9 years after moving, because I stock up every time I visit friends.

When I was in college, just down the road at Agnes Scott, I took some sort of women and religion class to fulfill a distributional. One of the assignments involved interviewing a woman of a different religious/cultural background - and our fellow students were not permissible interview subjects. When we made noises about where on earth we were supposed to meet these women who would be willing to be interviewed, geez, our professor chuckled and said "Go to the Farmer's Market. Be nice to people. You'll find someone willing to chat with you." And, whaddaya know, it worked out just fine.

And... it seems completely obvious in retrospect, but it never occurred to me that part of the reason that the produce was so cheap was that they own their own farms.
posted by amelioration at 1:17 PM on May 24, 2012

Panjandrum, the article does explain the dots. I won't say, in case you want to keep your conspiracy theories intact.
posted by amelioration at 1:18 PM on May 24, 2012

I just visited friends in Atlanta/Decatur a couple of months ago, and we visited the market. Being from VT, home of awesome co-ops and farmer's markets, I was skeptical when they told me it was "the coolest market ever," but damned if they weren't right. That place is awesome.
posted by brand-gnu at 1:21 PM on May 24, 2012

amelioration, memail me an address I can send stuff if you ever want a bit of nostalgia and it's yours.

Anyway, an additional 518,000 square feet of retail space? Holy crap. The place is already huge! But... then again, that's probably the one place in Atlanta that such a space can bear to expand without a huge chunk of the population going all NIMBY.
posted by neewom at 1:24 PM on May 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've been trying to wrap my head around the fact that they want to add another half a million square feet of retail space to this place. It's already gigantic. I wonder if they will expand their selection of live fish?
posted by dortmunder at 1:31 PM on May 24, 2012

I think I'd rather have a Dekalb Farmer's Market than a Black Muslim Bakery, at least if the bakery's going to be a crime syndicate.

/end East Bay reference

Now that I've gotten the joke I couldn't resist out of the way, I have bookmarked this for reference during this summer's trip to Atlanta.
posted by hoyland at 1:35 PM on May 24, 2012

I'm there at least once a week, living in the area as I do. Go during the week if you's a claustrophobic madhouse on the weekend.

You can't beat (literally, short of driving out to a farm) the prices on veggies, nor the selection. One of the niftiest things is find some new, bizarre vegetable and asking one of the workers (essentially all immigrants) "how do you cook this". If they can't tell you, you get "we don't eat that in my country...but I'll get you a guy who does".

The cheese selection is crazy. My daughter and I have played "the cheese game" since she was about 4. She'd pick out one or two small hunks of cheese (the $1-$4 size), and we'd have a little cheese party at home where she'd try something new. She's ten, and I don't think we've duplicated selections yet.

There are *always* huge amounts of Mangos. Want a 20lb bag of carrots? No problem, dirt cheap. The deserts are so-so (look better than taste) but the fresh bread is excellent. Spices you only read about? There there someplace. 25lbs of fish heads for stock? Not going to get that at Kroger.

"Go to the Farmer's Market. Be nice to people. You'll find someone willing to chat with you."

Very, very true. Learned a lot about life on the ground in North Africa for YDFM folks. The place is an experience.

P.S. - Just a bit up the road is an oriental market just about as weird and wonderful, full of all sorts of strange foods and goods. Worth checking out if you're in the area.
posted by kjs3 at 1:37 PM on May 24, 2012

I have loved YDFM for years. When my (now adult ) kids were little, a highlight of our trips was when we'd make it over to the fish and they'd pet the catfish (if you haven't tried it, catfish are velvety).

Recently one of my daughters moved to Clarkston, just a couple of miles from the YDFM, and was excited about having ready access to such great, cheap produce. I love that I can stop there and pick up baba ghanouj, seaweed salad, fresh herbs, fancy cheeses, and a pile of great produce in one stop. I can't imagine what they'll do with all the additional space, but I'll definitely be going to check it out.
posted by notashroom at 1:41 PM on May 24, 2012

I grew up in Marietta and the DFM was a family shopping staple.
I rememberthe old location,the dim lighting, permanent puddles. I remember the fish mongers, the bakers and the produce folks. I remember when they moved to this new location. I remember when Harry's spun off.
I miss it. My parents moved back to GA, way up by the lake.
Last time they picked us up at the airport, we went there to shop and eat dinner.
I live in Austin and I am glad to have decent grocery choices, but NOTHING here compare to the Dekalb Farmers Market. This post and article are like nostalgia crack. I remember when Harry's spun off from DFM. I remember when Whole Foods bought Harry's and I had the misguided hope that somehow the DFM magic would fix the abomination that was and is Whole Foods, despite the fact that Harry's solo was never as good as Dekalb.
The Dekalb Farmers Market has been a huge part of my life and my eating, either by its presence in my life or by it's absence from my life.
Maybe I should buy a plane ticket.
posted by Seamus at 1:43 PM on May 24, 2012

Ha Ha! I'm going this weekend to stock up on groceries.

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways....
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:51 PM on May 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

The last place I lived (before where I live now, I mean) was Decatur and YDFM was my habitual grocery store. I still make a point of going whenever I'm back in Atlanta; their bulk teas and spices are the best bargains east of the Rockies.

My non-foodie* Canadian husband loves it because they have Dare cookies.

* Non-foodie is one description of his eating habits. More accurately, he's a beigeitarian. If it's beige, he'll probably eat it.
posted by workerant at 1:58 PM on May 24, 2012

My Dad opened a restaurant in Atlanta in '76, riding the same wave of interest in real food that the Dekalb Farmers Market rode. Things were so different back then. Americans didn't know about quality food, and they didn't know about different cultures, either. My Dad was just making it up as he went along, based on Julia Child and his joy of cooking at home. But the Farmer's Market was a big part of what we were doing back then. My Dad tried to take off one day a week, but he was the shopper, and sometimes even on Sunday he would be out there... he knew that place quite intimately and was amazingly familiar with prices... which allowed our little business to survive through many lean times. I believe we had the lowest food cost of any restaurant in town. Usually I stayed back at the shop, but sometimes I rode out there with him, and he would blaze through, showing me his tricks, his instant ability to find the deals. I never knew the second location as well, I must have moved on by then, but he kept going for years.
posted by bitslayer at 2:15 PM on May 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've been the source of a lot of those recommendations, so I'm thrilled to see this post! I was a poor grad student from Charlotte, NC, when I first visited there in 1988. I couldn't believe how cheap, and how foreign, the products were. It was the first place I had a samosa, jicama, fresh pasta, skate wing, bialy, mango tea, Sriacha, bagels still warm from the oven, all sorts of fine cheeses and beers, hell, probably the first time I bought fresh garlic, certainly the first time I bought cilantro. I'd always been curious about other cultures and their cuisines, but, especially in Charlotte in 1988, there simply wasn't much opportunity to explore.

And the prices meant that I could explore, with little consequence. I could afford to buy a 1/4 pound tub of, oh, garam masala, even though I'd never heard of it before, because it cost $1. Bagels were 5 for $1. Big, hearty samosas were $1. I had exactly the "how do you cook this" experience with jicama--had it, in matchstick form, at the salad bar, asked what it was, was shown a picture, went and got one, and brought it back to the deli to confirm--such an intimate, yet totally mundane thing that I remember 20 years later.

The last time I visited, I cried when I walked in there, remembering all the wonderful (wonderful) discoveries I made there, and at how my memories were completely confirmed--the food was as fantastic as I remembered, and as cheap. I'm tearing up right now writing this post. About a damned grocery store. It really is that great.
posted by MrMoonPie at 2:31 PM on May 24, 2012 [6 favorites]

God, I miss that place. Chocolate-covered strawberries for 50 cents? Yes please.

Quick story:

In the middle of the seafood section, they used to keep a large, open tank of crawfish. On one particular shopping trip, all of the crawfish were dead.

Save one.

He was standing gloriously in the center of the tank, claws overhead, surveying the bodies of his defeated enemies. A tiny, crusty gladiator.

So, of course, my friend and I had to have him.

And his name would be COLOSSUS.

He cost less than 40 cents, I believe. We drove our pissed-off-warrior-in-a-baggie straight to the nearest pet store, where we spent more than $100 for crawfish accoutrement. I can think of better investments. Hindsight's 20-20, I suppose.

Not knowing anything about crawfish, we just dumped him in his new tank, with his new rock. COLOSSUS immediately lost his shit, and wooshed around his tank for nearly an hour, even though he could have easily crawled up on his rock.

After about a month, we noticed that—somehow—tiny slugs had begun to grow in the tank. Even though he was clearly faster than the baby slugs, he would wait—claws overhead—as they slowly trailed their way up his rock.

And in classic COLOSSUS fashion, he would grab a baby slug, woosh around his tank with it, and pull it apart with his tiny, spidery fingers.


He would also hide his food in his rock. The smell eventually was so overwhelming that I came home to find a roommate wearing a gas mask. The subsequent venture into cleaning his tank was horrific. But first we had to get angry, stabby COLOSSUS out of his tank. Nightmare.

This went on for a year. A whole year.

COLOSSUS, what an asshole. But dang, I loved that creature.
posted by functionequalsform at 2:46 PM on May 24, 2012 [10 favorites]

> the article does explain the dots. I won't say, in case you want to keep your conspiracy theories intact.

From the article: Though Blazer declined to discuss specifics, it involves one person serving as the yin to another's yang, balancing out each other's talents. Employees wear a white or black dot to signify which they are.

This does nothing but raise more questions!

I like it. The dream of the Dekalb Farmers Market United Super-Friends Army remains alive and well.
posted by Panjandrum at 3:02 PM on May 24, 2012 [3 favorites]

Functionequalsform, you've made me nostalgic for the times I toothpick-sparred with the YDFM crawfish!

And thanks to this post I'm now craving the vegan orange muffins. WAAAAAANNNTTT
posted by nicebookrack at 3:04 PM on May 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

I love this place. I just moved to Decatur not long ago and it is by far the best thing about living here.
posted by polywomp at 6:02 PM on May 24, 2012

The Dekalb Farmer's Market is so good that people I know have taken its location into account when picking a neighborhood to live in, so that they could shop there more often. Mrs. Deadmessenger and I drive about 40 miles each way to go there, making the trip about once a month or so, and sometimes wonder why we don't do it even more often than that. The cafeteria there is quite literally my favorite restaurant in Georgia.
posted by deadmessenger at 7:19 PM on May 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

IIRC White dot = "Expanding" personality: extroverted, creative, right brain
Black dot = "Contracting personality: introverted, focused, left brain
posted by Scoo at 7:57 PM on May 24, 2012

I agree that YDFM is great, but I think the Buford Highway Farmers Market (their site)(yelp) is even more of a treat. I'm surprised I'm only the second person to mention it in this thread. They. have. everything.
posted by PueExMachina at 8:21 PM on May 24, 2012

I was there two days ago and filled a basket to overflowing with cheese, salami, bread, veggies and spices for less than $30. Makes me smile every time. I always bring out-of-town friends so they can stock up on grains and spices -- I bought 1/4 lb of chili powder for $.85, for example, and a head-sized bag of bay leaves for the same price.
posted by runningwithscissors at 9:01 AM on May 25, 2012

LOVE this place. I live right down the road and my only rule is to not go on weekends when it's wall-to-wall crazy busy.

Each time I come home with my multitude of bags I plunk them down on the counter and say, "I love the Farmer's Market."
posted by Constant Reader at 9:56 AM on May 25, 2012

My friend HD read this, and wrote to me:

The market originally was elsewhere outside Atlanta. My grandma would drive me in her 1954 baby Blue Caddie, 4 door. Kind of a land yacht. She learned to drive by looking through the steering wheel... she was short. Anyway, it was not uncommon for parents, in those days, to chastise their unruly children by telling them that they were really born at the DeKalb Farmers Market. They were told that's where they came from. If the child did not behave, the threat was that the child would be returned to the Market and another little boy or girl would take the child's place. I was told this about every week by some adult.... and I believed it. I was terror-stricken whenever Grandma asked me to go with her to the Market.
posted by aqsakal at 12:13 AM on May 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

My understanding is that the original location was at the 6-way intersection of N. Decatur, Scott, and Medlock, where Melton's and the rat-infested Pet Supermarket are. That place is pretty scary now, and I can totally imagine that's where bad little kids came from.
posted by hydropsyche at 2:18 PM on May 27, 2012

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