New York City's Green Carts Bring Fresh Produce to Food Deserts

Top image credit: Illumination Fund.

Obesity and diabetes often plague cities. Such is the case for New York City where 40 percent of school kids are considered obese. One of the main drivers in New York and other cities is the lack of access to fresh fruits and vegetables in low income communities.

Back in 2008, then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg launched the NYC Green Cart program to bring fresh, affordable produce to food deserts. The initiative's initial goal was 1,000 permits with 350 earmarked for the Bronx, a community with the highest obesity rates in New York State.

Now that it has been operating for a few years, the program's outcomes are being measured on three points: 

  • Does it reach a low-income population?
  • Are people buying more fruits and veggies?
  • Do vendors make a profit and learn business skills?

As an example, the 200 Green Carts operating in the Bronx offer cheaper prices than the local bodegas, as well as acceptance of food stamps and culturally appropriate foods in immigrant neighborhoods. As a result, not only are residents eating better -- 71 percent report eating more fruits and vegetables -- but they also have new job opportunities due to the ease of becoming a Green Cart vendor. The city intentionally lowered the barriers to becoming a vendor. They carts have an earning potential of $40,000 a year. Ex-convicts and non-U.S. citizens alike can apply for a permit, and the low start-up ($4,000) and operating costs can be funded by the program's micro-loan partners.

Still, Kerry McLean, a food activist living in the Bronx, thinks the Green Cart program can do better. For starters, McLean wants to "make it hyper-local" by implementing the following changes:

  • making permit applications available in each burrough
  • providing cart storage within the neighborhood
  • securing refrigerated produce storage within the neighborhood
  • encouraging vendors to form cart clusters for bulk buying privileges
  • sourcing products from local farms

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