Customers Prove There’s a Market for Fresh Produce: NYTimes

BRONX, USA: The New York City Council began a program to get healthy foods on the street in low-income neighborhoods. The NYTimes reports here:

The cart’s debut was the centerpiece of the first public celebration of a new citywide effort to encourage street vendors to bring fresh vegetables and fruit to low-income neighborhoods that have been called “food deserts” because of the predominance of fast-food outlets offering high-fat, high-sugar fare and the dearth of healthful culinary fare.

The city has approved 1,000 new mobile food carts for neighborhoods in the five boroughs that have long been isolated from traditional supermarkets, grocery stores and farmers’ markets offering fresh produce at reasonable prices.

“There is an epidemic of obesity and diabetes among those who are poor,” said Linda I. Gibbs, the deputy mayor for health and human services.

So far, 200 Green Carts, as they are officially called, are now on the streets. “Already, people are telling us they’re glad we’re here,” said Michael Bracho, the 42-year-old proprietor of the Decatur Avenue cart, a downsized former Office Depot manager who describes his new occupation as “lucrative if you do it right.”

Some of the vendors who hit the streets last year complained about low-traffic locations, and it will take a while to determine whether there is enough demand to keep all the vendors in business in neighborhoods where processed foods are dominant. And some local merchants could see the carts as competition.

The carts do not accept food stamps, though a government-financed pilot program will soon provide $1,000 all-weather wireless terminals so 15 vendors can accept food-stamp debit cards.

The cart permits restrict operators to designated impoverished neighborhoods in the five boroughs and limit sales to raw fruits and vegetables.

The plan, approved by the New York City Council and signed into law by the mayor last year, is part of a public-private effort to make healthier food available to the poor while also providing 1,000 new jobs. Many vendors are immigrants from Latin America, Asia and elsewhere, said Karen Karp, a consultant to the project.

In low-income neighborhoods, “we know that it takes more time to build supermarkets,” said Benjamin Thomases, the food-policy coordinator for the Bloomberg administration, “but we can get carts on the streets right now.”

Even if doctors talk to their patients about eating in a more healthy way, “there is little access to these kinds of foods in minority communities,” said Dr. Peter A. Selwyn, a department chairman at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx.

“There’s third-rate stuff around here if you can even find it,” said Tom Johnson, a 25-year-old maintenance worker, as he stood amid the frenzy at the cart. “I can buy here now.”

People working two jobs “are not going to get on a train, or two buses, to travel to get fresh vegetables,” said Laurie M. Tisch, president of the Illumination Fund, a charity that has donated $1.5 million over two years to provide capital for Green Cart micro-loans for basic purchases, like the $2,000 food carts, through Acción New York, a nonprofit organization that helps those who do not qualify for bank credit.

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