Friday, September 26, 2008

Wilted Greens

There was a NY Daily News article on the city's Green Cart experiment that we missed while away in August. Apparently, things aren't going so well, and as of August 18th, only 8 peddlers had been designated for all of those poor nabes that lack access to fresh produce: "Special veggie vendors who city officials hope will help tackle the growing obesity problem have quietly hit the streets. But all is not rosy with the so-called Green Carts. One of the eight approved vendors - who have the right to sell fruits and vegetables on the street in poor neighborhoods with specially designed carts - told the Daily News business is the pits. Monawara Sultana and her two daughters sold nectarines, bananas and other fresh produce to customers on East Gun Hill Road in the Bronx yesterday, but the Bangladeshi family said competition in the area makes it tough to turn a profit."

We just can't wait for the Consumer Affairs Committee to do the oversight on this fiasco; eight vendors when the city said it would roll out 500 this year? Why the gap? Are the vendors reluctant to get out into communities because: (1) there are already fruit and veggie stores taking care of the folks; and, (2) Demand for produce isn't overwhelming in certain neighborhoods?

We do know, however, that these veggie peddlers have metastasized all over Manhattan-so is it possible that there's a supply and demand equation at work here? "Spearheaded by Health Commissioner Thomas Frieden and Mayor Bloomberg, the initiative was passed in City Council despite opposition from established food sellers. Frieden argued that poor people are deprived of affordable fresh fruits and veggies; bodegas and supermarkets said vendors would undercut their prices."

Maybe we were wrong about the undercutting, but we also said that the "unmet demand" argument was definitely overstated by the city: "Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services Linda Gibbs said problems like Sultana's will sort themselves out. "The vendors will find their niche," Gibbs said. "These are new markets they're entering, and in time they'll learn where the demand is and where it isn't."

And perhaps the city will learn that it can't repeal the laws of supply and demand just because it is conducting a feel good social experiment based on a false hypothesis. Meanwhile, we await the first concrete city initiative to promote supermarkets in the city; time's well past for these health firsters to actually put their money where their mouths are.