By Bryce Edmonds
Some day, New York City's ubiquitous hotdog and pretzel carts might give way to something new—fruit and veggie carts. There's no need to go running for the mustard just yet, however. For now, the number of new healthy mobile farm stands will be limited to 500.
In February, the City Council voted to create 1,000 new permits for the so-called Green Carts, and Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg signed the bill into law in March. Over the next two years the permits will be phased in, with the application period for the first phase ending June 18. The carts will operate in less veg-friendly neighborhoods—those where, according to a city study, 15 percent or more of the population reported eating zero servings of fruits and vegetables in the previous 24 hours.
Bloomberg, known for his progressive environmental stances, said in a statement, "Our best estimate is that this initiative will result in at least 75,000 New Yorkers eating more fresh fruits and vegetables, which could save at least 50 lives a year in the long term."
According to Marion Nestle, Paulette Goddard Professor of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University, while numbers are a nice, but perhaps imprecise, way to discuss the new carts, there is a more important effect. "The point is that fruits and vegetables are good for people, and it's great to develop markets for local farmers," she said.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported that approximately 11 percent of Americans experienced food insecurity in 2006. And, this spring, city dwellers learned from a new report that they had beefed up a total of 10 million pounds in two years, with a 17 percent increase in obesity. According to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation 2007 Report on State Action to Promote Nutrition, Increase Physical Activity and Prevent Obesity, "Households in urban and low-income areas are more likely to experience food insecurity. Obesity rates also are highest among those in low-income neighborhoods."
Nestle, who said she'd love to see local seasonal produce being sold on every corner, was optimistic yet cautious about the impact of the new carts. "Let's be realistic about what these carts can do: Make a living for the people running them, provide fruits and vegetables for people who don't otherwise have access and create a market for (hopefully) local farmers," she said. "Will a veggie cart solve the obesity problem? That would be asking a lot. But maybe they will create more demand for fruits and vegetables, and if people eat fruits and vegetables instead of junk food, who knows? It's a step in the right direction."