Battling a food desert
What: Birchwood International Market
Where: Corner of Northwest and Maplewood avenues
WHEN: 6-10pm Fri., July 27, Aug. 31, Sept. 28
Wednesday, July 25, 2018
Sometimes, a boarded-up grocery store is a sign that renovations are being made inside and better things are yet to come. But in the case of the Park Manor Albertsons on the corner of Northwest and Maplewood avenues, the shutdown has instead become a symbol of corporate greed.
Since Albertsons closed its doors in May of 2016, the Birchwood neighborhood has been without a major grocer, meaning residents of the “Wood Hood” who don’t own vehicles must walk long distances purchase their food staples.
And although Albertsons has sold the 41,000-square-foot-space since shuttering, a noncompete clause in effect until 2047 means the building can’t be used as a grocery store.
Enter the Birchwood Food Desert Fighters, a group of neighbors and allies working to address the issue at hand.
“We work to raise awareness of food desert issues in our community, to pressure Albertsons to allow release its noncompete clause, and to promote greater food access and a sense of community by organizing Food and GardenShare networks, RideShare networks, and working together for a sustainable, culturally appropriate community-based solution for the old Albertsons space,” the group says on its Facebook page. “We want local businesses and all of our neighbors to thrive.”
The Food Desert Fighters have had successes—especially in the summer months. A Little Free Food box at 2833 Birchwood Avenue is regularly restocked by neighbors sharing their garden produce, and a Share Spot runs from 12-12pm Saturdays at the bus stop in front of the ICU on Northwest Avenue.
Additionally, from 10am-2pm every Sunday, the neighborhood’s City Sprouts Farm is addressing issues of food access by running the Birchwood Community Farm Stand, a mini-farmers market selling affordably priced local vegetables and more at the Park Manor Shopping Center (EBT cards are welcome).
June’s inaugural Birchwood International Market also proved that residents are eager to support the neighborhood. Hosted by Sustainable Connections, the event taking place on the last Friday of the month through September celebrates the cultural diversity of Birchwood, Bellingham, and the Pacific Northwest through an array of food selections, small-scale performances, art and more.
Held in the parking lot of the abandoned Albertsons, organizers say the first market on June 29 drew nearly 1,000 residents who danced, purchased local produce and food truck selections, perused an array of booths and showed their love for those living and working in the Birchwood neighborhood. They’re hoping to recreate the success at the second soiree Fri., July 27.
“We can’t wait to see what the rest of the markets bring,” program director Rose Lathrop says. “We hope that they help spark a vibrant cultural retail district for the neighborhood, increase food security, and strengthen Birchwood’s sense of place.”