By Erica Wright
The Birmingham Times
A steady rain didn’t dampen the excitement surrounding the opening of the Birmingham Central Market on Wednesday.
The market opened at the Birmingham Jefferson County Transit Authority central station downtown and is a partnership between the BJCTA and the City of Birmingham designed to provide healthy, high-quality food to underserved communities in Birmingham.
“Aside from the weather, this is a very bright day for the city of Birmingham and our residents,” said Mayor Randall Woodfin. “Almost 70 percent of our residents live in what the United States Department of Agriculture designated as food deserts. … today we take a big step toward creating a healthier, more inclusive city and I couldn’t be happier.”
Food deserts are defined as areas where it is difficult to buy affordable or good-quality fresh food.
Between 2005 and 2015, Jefferson County lost more than five grocery stores, the third most in the state of Alabama, said the mayor.
The mayor said council districts citywide have at least one USDA designated food desert and unfortunately some more than others. “People in our city, city council districts, communities and neighborhoods are suffering simply because of the zip code they live in,” said Woodfin. “Access to healthy food should be a right not reserved to a privileged few, that’s why I’m excited about what the Birmingham Central Market brings to the table.”
Fresh vegetables, fruit, eggs and honey will be sold at the Birmingham Central Market which will be open Monday through Friday from 12:30 to 5:30 p.m.
BJCTA Executive Director Frank T. Martin said the market is huge for the transit authority, city of Birmingham and Jefferson County. “We are trying to address the food desert within the core urban areas and any time you can provide an opportunity for our residents to get fresh vegetables, fruit, honey and eggs . . . this will help them develop a better lifestyle in making healthy choices in terms of how they go about their daily activities.”
Martin added, “We are concerned about the lives of our customers and are thrilled to be able to offer them this service. The Central Market has the possibility to make a real difference in the health of the entire community.”
Council President Pro-Tempore Wardine Alexander said the market could be the first of similar initiatives. “For thousands of riders that will have the opportunity to come through this station each day and have a healthy food option is indeed a pleasure for each of us . . . the City Council and our president, William Parker we are very excited today to support this project and we look forward to this and many other endeavors in the city,” she said.
Jefferson County Commissioner Sheila Tyson applauded the transit authority for bringing the central market to the community.
“I don’t think people realize that you can’t make grocery stores come into your district,” she said. “. . . Having this market here was a great idea from transit.”
Alabama State Senator Linda Coleman-Madison, who helped bring the market downtown said the location made sense.
“Our transit covers every part of the city of Birmingham and everybody has access… you can get on the bus and come down here to the market and enjoy yourself because this is going to be a place of synergy,” she said. “It is here for everyone, not just transit dependent, let’s come and support the market.”
To make the market a reality, the city was awarded an initial $50,000 grant from the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs (ADECA). The city also contributed an additional $100,000 and the BJCTA contributed $50,000 towards construction costs and $43,000 in in-kind donations.