A city that struggles with serious diet-related health concerns, many who live in Birmingham, AL have limited access to fresh, healthy food. With the help of PPS, the city has begun to create a new system of markets that will get fresh food to the people who need it most and create vibrant neighborhood hubs of local economic and social activity in a city where public space is also scarce.
PPS has long known that public markets play a key role in alleviating these health concerns. Partnering with Main Street Birmingham and, supported by funding from the Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) Communities Putting Prevention to Work (CPPW) program, PPS led a Placemaking workshop last summer and worked with local residents to help them build a vision for markets in their city. The community’s participation will inform a study, which had two primary objectives:
- Increase the number and accessibility of quality markets in “food imbalanced” neighborhoods
- Coordinate and connect many market-related activities through a local Market Alliance
PPS’ markets team has proposed what we call “Healthy Food Hubs” throughout the city of Birmingham. These hubs are places where people can do much more than just buy fresh, affordable food. Food Hubs are vibrant community centers where neighbors can meet each other, attend cooking classes, learn about nutrition, and get health care.
Based on feedback from residents and the city’s various demographics, several concepts were proposed, including community garden-based farmers markets and the expansion and integration of the peddler and farm stand systems into retail and civic areas.
For a city like Birmingham, recently named America’s second most obese city according to Forbes, where 31.3% of Birmingham’s residents have a BMI of 30 or higher, there can be no “silver bullet” solution. Providing all neighborhoods with access to healthy, fresh food is one way to start to mitigate obesity-related health concerns.
The next step in implementing these initiatives in Birmingham is to find sponsors who will fund the the Market Alliance to begin work to start new Healthy Food Hubs, to connect community groups to the movement, and to set up a process for markets to accept SNAP (food stamps) and other Federal nutrition assistance coupons.
Main Street Birmingham’s Sam Crawford believes that “PPS has given the City of Birmingham and its many partners an excellent tool that will be used to establish a network of ‘public spaces’ that can become catalysts for further economic opportunity and where residents can work, play and access healthy foods in a safe friendly environment.” We at PPS are also optimistic about the prospects of changing food and public space access in Birmingham and using public markets to improve the public health of the city.
Looking to set up SNAP at your market? Download a free copy of PPS’ Guide “SNAP/EBT at Your Farmer’s Market: Seven Steps to Success.”
To learn more about setting up a great market in your neighborhood, come to PPS’ Spring Training session “How to Create Successful Markets,” May 20-21 in New York City.