Amendment passed to increase access to healthy foods in Birmingham

Healthy food is important to all ages, but it’s essential to the healthy development of children. Photo via UAB Medicine.

Birmingham, AL is experiencing massive growth. That’s no surprise to any Bham Now readers. Recently, the city government passed legislation to meet a need Birmingham residents have—lack of access to fresh and healthy foods.

Growing City, Growing Needs

Downtown Birmingham, AL. Photo by Jacob Blankenship for Bham Now

There are certain elements a city needs to thrive—education, jobs, and development, just to name a few. Birmingham has no shortage of these elements, and they are expanding every single day.

One element to success that wouldn’t immediately come to my mind, at least, is this: access to affordable healthy foods. Healthy citizens make for a healthier community.

Earlier this month, in an 8-0 vote, the Birmingham City Council approved an amendment to help reduce food deserts and improve residents’ access to healthy foods.

The Amendment

Fresh and local– you just can’t beat it! Photo via The Market at Pepper Place on Facebook.

The city’s Department of Innovation and Economic Opportunity reports that there are 146,000 Birmingham residents living in food deserts. 

“Healthy foods are the cornerstone of a healthy community. What we are trying to do is show our community that healthy residents make healthy workers, which will lead to a healthier economy.’’

Josh Carpenter, director of the Department of Innovation and Economic Opportunity
Beautiful fruits and vegetables at GreenWise Market in Mountain Brook Village. Photo by Jon Eastwood for Bham Now

The amendment was submitted earlier this year to change the city’s existing zoning ordinance with several goals in mind:

  • Recruit new grocery stores in areas where they currently are not
  • Reduce the number of dollar stores opening in food deserts, which will allow more grocery stores to enter the market
  • Sell produce onsite at community gardens
  • Operate farmers’ markets by increasing the number of days per year that they can be open
  • Operate mobile grocery stores in residential districts where residents live

What Exactly is a Food Desert?

“Food deserts are defined as parts of the country vapid of fresh fruit, vegetables, and other healthful whole foods, usually found in impoverished areas.”

As in most urban areas, Birmingham dollar stores tend to be concentrated in underserved areas where fresh options are severely limited. Photo by Beth Cunningham for Bham Now.

It’s qualified based on what percentage of residents of any given area live move than a certain distance away from a grocery store.

Alabama has the fifth-highest concentration per capita of dollar stores in the country. Dollar stores typically offer only processed and preserved foods, and a high number of them in an area can keep grocery stores with fresher options away.

By limiting the number of dollar stores opening in the city, this amendment will make Birmingham more appealing to potential grocers.

Birmingham Grocery Expansion

Fresh produce at the recently opened Harvest Market. Photo supplied.

The Harvest Market was one of the first grocers to focus on bringing fresh and healthy foods to downtown Birmingham, which is still a largely underserved area in this aspect.

Another initiative aiming to bring more options to food deserts was the announcement that a farmer’s market would be coming to the BJCTA Intermodal. One of the greatest barriers to fresh food is transportation, so bringing the market to the transportation hub is a brilliant concept.

Birmingham Intermodal Facility
Birmingham’s downtown Intermodal Facility, located on Morris Ave. Photo by Pat Byington for Bham Now

One of the main goals of this amendment is to encourage other fresh and healthy markets to follow in these footsteps and bring better options to all Birmingham communities.

“Making sure that people have access to healthier foods is fundamental to our work in not only recruiting grocery stores but other businesses.’’

Josh Carpenter, director of the Department of Innovation and Economic Opportunity

Healthy Options in Birmingham to Check Out in the Meantime

Raised beds at Jones Valley Teaching Farm’s Community Garden. Photo by Sharron Swain for Bham Now

Hopefully, with this amendment, healthy foods will become more and more accessible to all Birmingham residents. While we wait, be sure to check out these options for fresh and local produce and other healthy essentials!

We love watching the positive changes constantly coming to Birmingham– stay updated by following us on social @BhamNow.

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Beth Cunningham
A Birmingham transplant who can usually be found hitting a new hiking trail or restaurant opening when she's not writing stories and snapping photos for Bham Now.
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