Journal of Urban Health: Bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine
*2011 The New York Academy of Medicine
Green Carts (Mobile Produce Vendors)
in the Bronx—Optimally Positioned to Meet
Neighborhood Fruit-and-Vegetable Needs?
Sean C. Lucan, Andrew Maroko, Renee Shanker,
and William B. Jordan
ABSTRACT Poor access to fresh produce likely contributes to disparities in obesity and
diet-related diseases in the Bronx. New York City’s Green Cart program is a partial
response to the problem. We evaluated this program (permitting street vendors to sell
fresh produce) by canvassing the Bronx for carts, interviewing vendors, and analyzing
their locations and food offerings. Green Carts were clustered in areas of probable high
pedestrian traffic, covering only about 57% of needy areas by liberal estimates. Some
carts sold outside allowed boundaries; a few sold sugary snacks. Vendor locations and
their food offerings suggest possible areas for program improvement.
Obesity and diet-related diseases disproportionately affect urban, low-income,
The Bronx—New York City (NYC)’s poorest borough with
large Hispanic/Latino (52%) and Black (34%) populations
—provides a clear
example. The Bronx has alarming rates of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and
cancer, and the worst health outcomes in New York State, particularly among its
racial and ethnic minorities.
Reasons for disproportionate disease are likely multifactorial, but unfavorable
diet almost certainly contributes. For instance, diets low in fruits and vegetables are
thought to contribute to obesity, chronic disease, and early mortality,
Bronx has the highest percentage of NYC residents reporting no fruits or vegetables
consumed the previous day (18.2% vs. 9.1% in Manhattan, for example).
A substantial and growing body of evidence relates low fruit-and-vegetable
intake with having limited nearby sources of fresh produce.
In the Bronx, 35% of
residents report having to walk more than 10 minutes to buy fresh produce,
most households have no car.
Recognizing poor health outcomes likely exacerbated by limited access to fresh
produce, NYC’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) has
pursued several strategies to increase access. A prime example is the Green Cart
The program, started in 2008, aims to increase fresh fruit-and-vegetable
availability in the city’s most underserved areas by way of street carts (which up
until 2008, did not deal appreciably in produce vending in poor neighborhoods).
Street carts selling whole fresh produce (i.e., “Green Carts”) are granted permits to
Lucan, Shanker, and Jordan are with the Department of Family and Social Medicine, Monteﬁore Medical
Center/Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Bronx, NY, USA; Maroko is with the Department of Health
Sciences, Lehman College, City University of New York, Bronx, NY, USA.
Correspondence: Sean C. Lucan, Department of Family and Social Medicine, Monteﬁore Medical
Center/Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Bronx, NY, USA. (E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org)
sell in speciﬁed areas (designated by DOHMH based on the reported low-produce
consumption of area residents).
The speciﬁed area in the Bronx is the most
extensive of any NYC borough.
While DOHMH is currently conducting its own assessment of Green Carts,
there have been no published Green Cart evaluations to date. Our team sought to
determine where Green Carts are located and what they sell in the Bronx in order to
understand potential implications for program viability and community nutrition
Two pairs of researchers, working separately on distinct projects, canvassed the
Bronx in search of Green Carts. One pair rode all city bus routes in the speciﬁed
Green Cart area, looking down side streets en route. The other pair used a personal
vehicle to drive Bronx streets. Together—despite missed side streets by the public-
transportation pair, and missed southwestern neighborhoods by the personal-vehicle
FIGURE 1. There were 61 Green Carts identiﬁed. There were 8 signiﬁcant Green Cart clusters
(minimum of 3 Green Carts with maximum span of 0.5 miles per cluster). Notable adjacent
landmarks by cluster were as follows: A. Monteﬁore Medical Center - Moses Division, Children’s
Hospital at Monteﬁore, North Central Bronx Hospital, Mosholu Monteﬁore Community Center,
Jerome-Gun Hill Business Improvement District, B. New York Presbyterian Hospital - Allen Hospital
(Manhattan), River Plaza Shopping Center (Bronx), C. James J Peters VA Medical Center, Monroe
College, Fordham University, Monteﬁore Medical Center - Fordham Plaza, New York Public Library,
Fordham Road Business Improvement District, 4 / D Subway Lines, 12 Select Bus Line, Metro-North
Railroad Station, D. Bronx Zoo, E. East Tremont Medical Center, F. Urban Horizons Family Health,
Essen Medical Associates, New York Public Library, G. Hunts Point Library, Point Community Center,
Hunts Point Recreation Center, Sustainable South Bronx, H. Hostos Community College, Lincoln
Hospital, St. Barnabas Hospital, College of New Rochelle, 2 / 4 / 5 Subway Lines
LUCAN ET AL.
pair—the two pairs covered the entire geographic area of the Bronx, with signiﬁcant
overlap for most neighborhoods.
Both pairs of researchers canvassed during business hours on weekdays from
June–August 2010, recording the location and permit number for each identiﬁed
Green Cart. One pair recorded items being sold, and asked vendors about when the
cart usually sells or if it ever sells in another location.
We determined spatial coordinates for all Green Cart addresses and plotted
locations using ArcGIS.
To test for spatial clustering, we used ArcGIS’average
nearest neighbor analysis. To identify speciﬁc clusters, we used Crimestat III
nearest neighbor hierarchical spatial clustering, setting a minimum of three Green
Carts at a maximum distance of 0.5 miles per cluster. Finally, we used ArcGIS for
kernel density estimations, to generate Green Cart “hotspots”using a 0.5-mile
bandwidth (a likely more liberal “accessibility threshold”than in other studies
using, for example, “5-min walk to fruit-and-vegetable markets”).
Cumulatively, we identiﬁed 61 unique Green Carts. Figure 1shows that identiﬁed
Green Carts were not evenly distributed. The average-nearest-neighbor-analysis
ratio of observed-to-expected distances between Green Carts was 0.54 (G1=
clustered, 1=random, and 91=dispersed), pG0.0001. Nearest neighbor hierarchical
spatial clustering identiﬁed eight clusters; these were around medical, academic,
transportation, retail, and recreation centers (see footnotes to Figure 1). Nearly 43%
of the speciﬁed Green Cart area was not within the generous 0.5-mile accessibility
threshold around identiﬁed carts.
Researchers observed 3 of the 61 Green Carts selling outside the speciﬁed area, with
other vendors admitting to sometimes doing likewise. Of 21 Green Carts for which we
recorded speciﬁc foods, three sold cookies and/or sugar-sweetened beverages.
In this ﬁrst-ever study of NYC Green Carts, we identiﬁed 61 carts that tended to
cluster near centers of probable high pedestrian trafﬁc. While such centers might
offer large numbers of potential customers, competition for business and space in
these areas could also constrain vendor proﬁts,
thereby threatening program
Vendor clustering might also limit the provision of fresh produce to commun-
ities most in need. While Green Carts were generally located in disadvantaged
neighborhoods, there were often miles of “Green Cart deserts”between “hotspots.”
Green Carts were absent from some of the neediest Bronx neighborhoods. Vendor
concerns for the volume of foot trafﬁc may have contributed to this absence, as well
as to the small number of vendors locating unlawfully in neighborhoods less
challenged by access to fresh produce.
We witnessed at least a small number of Green Carts selling expressly
disallowed sugary drinks and cookies. These products run counter to the program’s
intent of improving community nutrition and health.
Our ﬁndings highlight opportunities for future research to improve NYC’s
important Green Cart program. For instance, researchers could explore differences
in proﬁts between vendors clustered in high trafﬁc areas and/or selling sugary treats
GREEN CARTS IN THE BRONX—OPTIMALLY POSITIONED TO MEET NEEDS?
versus those selling produce only in areas of minimal competition but perhaps less
Opportunities for additional research suggest some of the limitations of our own
work. First, we are unable to comment on vendor sales, proﬁtability, or exact customer
base (e.g., it is possible that residents of disadvantaged neighborhoods have access to
Green Carts around where they work even if there are no Green Carts near their
homes). Also, our ﬁndings are only a composite snapshot, representing the combination
of two separate but corroborating cross-sectional samples. If carts were in locations at
different times than either of our two research teams, they would have been missed.
While DOHMH has granted more than twice as many permits as the number of Green
Carts we identiﬁed (113 granted as of June 21; 145 as of August 19) it is unclear how
many permitees ever started (or continue) to vend.
Reassuringly, our ﬁnal
composite list of carts was consistent with a list compiled by the city’s consulting
ﬁrm providing technical assistance to Green Cart vendors.
In spite of limitations, our work points to potential strategies to enhance
Green Cart implementation. For instance, to move Green Carts into disadvan-
taged neighborhoods where carts are absent: (1) the city might expand
community partnerships to create local demand, (2) community groups might
enlist residents of disadvantaged neighborhoods to become Green Cart vendors,
and (3) vendors might explore establishing electronic beneﬁttransferfor
potential Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program customers. NYC could
also consider increasing efforts to attract more potential vendors to the Green
Cart program: e.g., expanding advertising and informational sessions at
community centers, modifying credit-history requirements for microloans for
cart purchases, or having a leasing option for carts. Indeed, with less than half
of the Bronx’s allotted permits having already been granted, issues of
geographic maldistribution could self-correct if future vendors take to the
streets. Finally, support for Green Cart vendors (often immigrants with limited
English proﬁciency, lower education, and little business experience)
come through community groups, to help vendors spread out, sell within the
limits of the law, and still generate sufﬁcient revenue to provide fresh produce
The authors would like to thank Cassandra Flechsig from Karp Resources for
providing data and reviewing this manuscript; Hope M. Spano from the Hispanic
Center of Excellence at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Mary Huynh
from the Bronx Careers in Health and Mentoring Program of Lehman College for
ﬁnancial support and intern coordination; the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund
for a grant to Monteﬁore Medical Center and the Street Vendor Project of the Urban
Justice Center to support street outreach; Gustavo Hernandez, Monica Varona,
Gillian Saunders, and Sushant Bhalla for performing data collection; Nandini Deb,
MA of Monteﬁore Medical Center and Mahbooba Akhter Kabita of Westchester
Square Partnership for translation of the vendor questionnaire into Bengali.
This publication was made possible by the CTSA Grant UL1 RR025750 and KL2
RR025749 and TL1 RR025748 from the National Center for Research Resources
(NCRR), a component of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and NIH
Roadmap for Medical Research. Its contents are solely the responsibility of the
authors and do not necessarily represent the ofﬁcial view of the NCRR or NIH.
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GREEN CARTS IN THE BRONX—OPTIMALLY POSITIONED TO MEET NEEDS?