Street vendors come in all shapes and sizes, including the 500 vendors that participate in New York’s Green Cart program. Green Cart’s are an initiative to provide fresh fruit and vegetables to low-income areas with limited options for healthy food. Knickerbocker Avenue in Bushwick has plenty of fast-food options but no grocery stores, until a produce cart moved in with general fruits and vegetables and specialty items for the Latino community in the area.
New York’s Green Cart program is intended to encourage the consumption of healthier food to combat obesity and diet-related diseases. Although Green Carts are only one initiative aimed at improving the diets of New Yorkers, many other cities are starting to catch on to this initiative. Now over 70 million Americans suffer from obesity, and green carts provide a convenient means to get fresh food to Americans.
At first the Green Cart initiative faced considerable pressure in New York City, as sidewalk congestion became an issue and small grocers objected to mobile carts competing against their brick-and-mortar businesses. Despite these problems, 1,000 permits were granted to vendors to sell fresh produce in underserved areas in 2008. The Green Cart program has required much less time and investment than other initiatives, with a low cost to entry and vendors applying through the same process they would to maintain a hot dog cart.
Despite the strict rules for sidewalk vending and slim profit margins, vendors in the Green Cart program have it comparatively easier than other vendors. Many vendors have begun to accept federal food-assistance benefits, with wireless devices given to them to accept payments. This way, customers in low-income areas can spend more on healthier alternatives, producing a win-win for the customer and the vendors.
As other cities begin adapting New York’s Green Cart model, they are noticing similar trends in how to execute them. One of the most important factors for these carts is where they’re located; those with the heaviest foot traffic and one indoor cart had the most sales over the course of a year. One cart in particular, inside the atrium of a children’s hospital got the benefit of having entire families heading past their location. Philadelphia is now considering working with hospitals to scale the program in a way to reach many families with limited incomes.
The end goal of these initiatives are to make fresh food more accessible in ‘food deserts’ and provide more jobs for immigrant vendors, unemployed youths and seniors. In some areas city officials are branching out by letting vendors sell fruit cups or chopped and bagged vegetables to increase the convenience of healthy food.
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