A few months ago the town of West Blocton conducted a resident survey to find out the biggest concerns of the community. To the surprise of some, the top answer was “food.” Not crime, not housing, not roads … food.
Last year, the long-standing West Blocton Food Center closed its doors for good, leaving many elderly residents a relatively long ride to Brent or Woodstock to find fresh produce. The distance may not seem like much to people commuting to Tuscaloosa or Birmingham, but for some the 40 minutes round trip can be a challenge. Hearing citizens’ concerns, the mayor and others went into action looking for a quick fix. They found the best and easiest way to bring fresh vegetables into the community could be a farmers’ market.
“We wanted to get it going quickly, but we wanted to do it right,” said Kathy McCulley, the Market Manager for the new West Blocton Farmers’ Market, “We reached out to Matthew Hartzell at the Bibb County Cooperative Extension office, and he hooked us up with John Willoughby, who is the head of the Alabama Farmers’ Market Authority. He helped us set everything up and has really been fantastic. He’s our go-to whenever we need help.”
“This has really been a community effort. So many people came together to make this happen, and we’re really excited about it.” — Kathy McCulley
The result is an official farmers’ market recognized by the State. According to McCulley, it’s the first one in West Blocton that anyone remembers. “You can’t be certified in your first year,” she added, “but if you follow all the rules during that first year, you can be certified the next year.” It is the only Farmers’ Market in Bibb County approved by the State, and all products and produce sold are made in Alabama.
Besides the operators learning what they’re doing with it all, they also held a “cottage law” workshop so market participants could learn how to properly and legally produce food items in their home kitchens for sale at the market. Fourteen local people took part in the seminar and are now qualified vendors for the market. There is no charge for a vendor to participate.
It’s not all just fruits and vegetables, either. According to the official rules, up to 20% of vendors in the market may be local artists selling their own wares. “You can’t just go get some craft kits from the store to resell, but real artists and craftspeople can sell what they make,” Ms. McCulley said. Because of this, local West Blocton artist Jeremy Davis will be there selling his artwork and taking orders. Mr. Davis created the statue of University of Alabama head coach Nick Saban that stands at the school near the statue of Paul “Bear” Bryant. He specializes in charcoal drawings, and is said to create amazingly realistic portraits in his medium.
In the vein of local artists and community effort, it’s also notable that students at West Blocton High School drew all of the signs you’ll see guiding you to the location on Main Street.
This Saturday, May 18, will be the first run of the West Blocton Farmers’ Market, from 9:00 a.m. until noon. The next Saturday, May 25, will be the next, but after that the market will be open only on the second and fourth Saturdays (always 9 to 12) June through September.
Everyone in Bibb County is invited to show up, buy some items, and enjoy themselves. As a bonus, the 30th Annual Cahaba Lily Festival will be going on right down the street. So make West Blocton your destination this Saturday. Don’t forget to like and share the West Blocton Farmers’ Market Facebook page to help support the endeavor.