On the busy commercial strip along Knickerbocker Avenue in Brooklyn’s Bushwick neighborhood are all the shops one might expect to find in a poor area branded a “food desert”: two 99-cent stores, a check-cashing center and plenty of pizza and fried chicken joints. But thanks to Alfonso Victor and Elena Ferreira, there’s also an oasis of fresh fruits and vegetables. Just about every weekday for the past three years, even in the depths of winter, the couple has set up a produce cart here, piled high with pineapples, tangerines, lettuce, tomatoes and specialty items for the area’s Latino community, such as plantains, yucca, hot peppers and cilantro.
Victor, from Mexico, and Ferreira, from the Dominican Republic, are two of more than 500 vendors who participate in New York’s Green Cart program, which puts fruit and vegetable carts on the streets in low-income areas with high rates of obesity and diet-related diseases. Though green carts are only one of several city strategies designed to encourage consumption of more-healthful food, there is early evidence it is working: In New York’s high-poverty neighborhoods, the percentage of adults who said they ate no fruits or vegetables during the previous day is slowly dropping, from 19 percent in 2004 to 15 percent
Alarming statistics — more than 70 million Americans are now considered obese — and first lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign have focused national attention on efforts to make healthful food more accessible and affordable. New York’s Green Cart program is fast becoming a model for other American cities.