Closure of Ahart’s Market raises need for local grocery alternatives
After the news of the imminent closure of the Ahart market, which is due to close on April 30th, the city of Bethlehem is working with the Kellyn Foundation to improve access to healthy food on the south side.
As part of its Food Access Initiative, the Kellyn Foundation offers an Eat Real Food Mobile Market that visits locations in Lehigh and Northampton counties on a weekly basis.
Through this new partnership, and with funding from COVID-19 funding from the city’s Community Development Block Grant, Kellyn will add a day or two to his current schedule for the cellular market starting May 1.
According to a press release from Mayor Robert Donchez’s office, these additions to the current schedule will make it easier for South Side residents to access fresh, affordable produce as the city looks for a long-term replacement for Aharts. Mobile market workers are also providing nutrition and cooking education to their customers, and family vouchers will be available for residents of the South Side.
Eric Ruth, co-founder and CEO of the Kellyn Foundation, said this partnership with the city was a natural choice for the foundation.
“We would very likely have ended up here without the city asking us,” said Ruth. “Our whole mission has always been to help neighborhoods lead healthier lives.”
The mobile market mainly offers products from the region, provided that they are available seasonally, as well as some ready-made meals and staple foods for the household. While these are helpful to Bethlehem residents, Ruth said the mobile market alone cannot replace a grocery store.
Even before Ahart announced its closure, the USDA recorded Bethlehem as Eating desertThis means that residents of the region have limited access to affordable and nutritious food.
However, Kelly Allen, chairman of the Bethlehem Food Co-op board, said Bethlehem should be viewed as “food apartheid,” a term he attributes to food activist Karen Washington rather than a food wasteland.
“When we talk about food apartheid, we look at our food system at the intersection of geography, race and economy,” said Allen.
According to Ruth, when an area like the South Side loses a grocery store, the most vulnerable populations in terms of food access are drastically affected. While some Bethlehem residents can afford to get their groceries in other ways, many shop in the store that is most affordable and accessible.
Alicia Karner, director of community and economic development for the city of Bethlehem, said many South Side residents now do their shopping at CVS or get meals at McDonald’s because it’s cheap and convenient. However, she said these places don’t have many healthy or fresh options.
The city recently sent out a poll to residents of Bethlehem asking them what to replace Aharts. According to Karner, most people are looking for a full-service grocery store that includes features like a deli and bakery.
Although the city is currently working to find a long-term solution that will meet the needs of Bethlehem residents, Karner said it may take a while for a new grocery store to open.
“Establishing a grocery store takes a while,” said Karner. “Even if we had a grocer willing to jump in right away, they’d want to do some renovation and some construction.”
Allen said community members are working hard to replace Ahart’s with a grocery store that caters to both the wants and needs of Bethlehem residents.