NYC Green Cart Initiative
In 2008, the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund partnered with the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City to launch the NYC Green Cart Initiative. The initiative was a novel strategy that used mobile street vending to increase access to fresh fruits and vegetables in targeted high-poverty neighborhoods where there are extremely high rates of diet-related diseases such as diabetes, obesity and heart disease and access to healthy food is a challenge.
The Illumination Fund supported vendor training, business development assistance, and on-the-ground assistance to the vendors, as well as the design, marketing and community outreach and nutrition education to increase customer engagement and business viability.
The Illumination Fund augmented the initiative with publication of NYC Green Cart Cookbooks that were distributed for free to the vendors to hand out to their customers, and funded a documentary movie, The Apple Pushers, that community organizations across the U.S. used for film screenings and discussions to raise awareness of food access issues as well as immigrant entrepreneurship.
Ten years later, the NYC Green Cart initiative is going strong and self-sustaining.
Today, there are approximately 300 vendors using these permits to operate Green Carts in neighborhoods such as the South Bronx, East Harlem, Central Harlem, Bedford Stuyvesant and Bushwick, and though some exit the program, new vendors start up every year.
And because many vendors have at least one additional employee, several hundred jobs have been created. Regardless of whether or not the vendors continue their businesses, they develop sales, business management and customer relations experience and skills that help them obtain other work or start other businesses, creating even greater economic impact for families and communities.
Research studies by Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, New York University’s School of Medicine and Wagner School of Public Service, and the City’s Department Health’s epidemiologists have demonstrated multiple dimensions of impact, not only from the Green Carts directly but in a beneficial spillover effect on other neighborhood food options, including bodegas and corner stores. Research revealed that stores that had not sold fruits and vegetables before the introduction of Green Carts started doing so. The percentage of food retail establishments that sold fruits and vegetables increased from 50% in 2008 to 69% in 2011, while there were no significant changes in availability in comparable neighborhoods that did not have Green Carts.
The NYC Green Cart Initiative was a blend of public policy, private philanthropy and grassroots entrepreneurship.