Janiba Seila and her husband in the bodega where he works (photo by Monica Melton)

Throughout the city, New Yorkers enjoy the luxury of crisp apples and leafy lettuce supplied by the Hunts Point Cooperative Market year-round. That is, unless you actually live in the Hunts Point area.

The 60-acre Hunts Point Terminal Market provides 60 percent of the fresh produce – meat, fish, fruits and vegetables – consumed in a metropolitan market of 22 million people.

All the same, the Hunts Point neighborhood is categorized as a “green food desert” – a place with limited access to local food. Such low-income areas have only 75 percent as many chain supermarkets as do middle-income areas.

And this relative lack of fresh food hurts. In 2013, the South Bronx had the highest percentage of obese adults in New York City, at 34 percent. This was likely because of restricted access to healthy foods: People who don’t live near a supermarket are 46 percent less likely to have a healthy diet than those with supermarkets nearby.

Robin Blackman at the Friendship Deli Grocery (photo by Monica Melton)

Robin Blackman at the Friendship Deli Grocery (photo by Monica Melton)

For the last three years, the city has worked to give Hunts Point residents better access to quality produce. The Department of Health and Mental Hygiene’s Healthy Bodegas Initiative was developed to promote healthier options in the little neighborhood stores where people shop if they don’t have a nearby supermarket. Some of the options included whole- and multi-grain breads, whole-wheat pastas and low-sugar beverages.

The 2012 study found that customers purchased healthier items like canned goods, low-fat milk, and whole-grain bread more often when the healthier items were stocked at eye level. Bodegas reported that 16 percent more healthy options were purchased after a change in product placement.

Mother-to-be Briana Sastro outside a bodega on 163rd Street (photo by Monica Melton)

Mother-to-be Briana Sastro outside a bodega on 163rd Street (photo by Monica Melton)

The benefits of healthier food are no mystery in the neighborhood. Bus driver Robin Blackman, who drives through Hunts Point every day, said he normally buys only juice at the bodegas. “These sugar snacks, these treats, they’re no good,” said Blackman. “They aren’t good for the kids. There aren’t enough fruit stands in the neighborhood. They need more.”

Most customers at one bodega agreed with Blackman and claimed to buy little more than juice from the store. Most of their produce was bought from the supermarket next door.

Local resident Chad Williams said that he only buys about 30 percent of his food from the bodega. He mostly travels to the Key Foods on the other side of the Bruckner Expressway to buy his produce, which he says is fresh and affordable.

For residents who cannot travel to other neighborhoods for healthier foods, there are fewer options.

Mayo Cope said that she is able to purchase healthy food because her Women, Infants, Children (WIC) assistance checks restrict her purchases to healthy food. Her friend Brianna Sastree, who said she does not receive government assistance, said it is hard for her to find healthy foods.

“Some people are so scared of the food that they are actually going to chicken spots and McDonald’s because that is already done,” said Sasstree. “But when it comes for people fending for themselves – that’s why half these people are obese.”


“These sugar snacks, these treats, they’re no good.”

In 2011, New York City launched its Green Cart project, which has been successful in underserved areas. The program provides green deserts like Hunts Point with carts of fresh produce available for residents to buy. On good days, you are likely to see a Green Cart on Baretto Street or Hunts Point Avenue surrounded by shoppers looking for grapes, mangoes, apples and other fresh fruit.

Percentage of Obese Adults | Charts by Monica Melton

Oscar Sanders, a Hunts Point resident, said he gets his produce from the carts. “I get it from vegetable markets on the street, or people that will pull in trucks and display their fruits and vegetables,” he said. “I guess it depends on how your income is. It could be pretty difficult, but I think it is pretty reasonable.”

Just Food, a Midtown-based organization, bridges local residents and farms up to 250 miles away. This partnership, called Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), gives Bronxites direct access to fresh produce and reduces their reliance on bodegas and local supermarkets. Last year, Just Food opened two programs in the South Bronx: one at the South Bronx Farmer’s Market in Mott Haven, and another at the Hunts Point Food Market.

“Residents have responded really well to our program,” said Quiana Mickie, who manages the CSA in Hunts Point. “They say that the produce they get from us is much better than what’s in the bodegas.” Though obesity rates remain high and the neighborhood still has trouble getting fresh produce, Hunts Point residents are at least getting better food than they once did.

“When I was younger, there weren’t any of these green carts,” said Lorena Martinez, a long-time Hunts Point resident. “People mostly shopped at bodegas, or traveled outside the neighborhood. Now, I can walk to the corner and get fresh fruits whenever I want.”

The real issue is no longer access to quality produce, but its affordability. Chenlee Carrasco, 17, a Hunts Point resident and community activist, said fresh fruit is easy to find at nearby Fine Fare, but it’s not always affordable. That doesn’t mean grocery stores are gouging customers. Jeffrey Brown, a district manager from Shop Rite, said suburban grocery stores make an average of 1 percent net profit after tax, while urban stores initially showed a 4 percent loss.

Despite high prices, greater access to better quality foods is the ultimate way to turn a green desert like Hunts Point into an oasis. And in time, Hunts Point may become a neighborhood where people can enjoy the fruit from their own backyard.

Hunts point Infant Mortality | Chart by Jessica Bal


Read more stories in this project

A grass-roots agenda for Hunts Point

Amazing Bronx River Flotilla in Hunts Point Riverside Park is just one example of community organizations that have a stake in the millions dollars of funding coming to Hunts Point. This money will go to many needs in Hunts Point from upgrading the food market to education. Learn more about the organizations poised to recieve funding here. (photo by Jessica Bal)

Hunts Point is a vibrant community with a diverse population

Residents say the neighborhood has been a vibrant place to live for years. A strong network of community groups have developed to fill in the gaps in service, and many exciting new changes are underway. Explore the Hunts Point neighborhood in this photo gallery. (photos by Jessica Bal and Micheala Ross)

Hunts Point aiming to revitalize but without gentrifying

Hunts Point has changed from a community danger zone of burning homes, crime and gang wars to cleaner streets, a revamped food market, a thriving industrial park and a beautiful waterfront ideal for walks along the East River. But residents worry about the neighborhood’s fate as new people move in and are working to make it a model of revitalization, but without gentrification. Read more about the neighborhood housing market. (photo by Jessica Bal)

Hunts Point prepares for the next superstorm

Hunts Point avoided the worst predictions during Hurricane Sandy; the storm hit at low tide, which left the neighborhood’s peninsula relatively unscathed. But the projections for the next storm indicate that the Point’s large distributors, small businesses and food markets are at risk. Read about about how community members plan to protect the neighborhood next time. (photo by Jessica Bal)

Small businesses brace for change

A cooperative of immigrant-owned small businesses came together to help lower their costs in 2013. Now the United Business Cooperative is 30 members strong. The group spans across the South Bronx and northern Manhattan and is looking to expand to Hunts Point this summer. Read more about how these mom-and-pop shops say they’re using new strategies to strengthen their businesses as larger chains restaurants and new demographics come to the area. (photo by Micheala Ross)

Modernizing the markets

New York runs on Hunts Point’s wholesale food markets, but aging infrastructure and the risk of coastal flooding have put them in jeopardy. Federal and city funding has been promised to help support this crucial distribution hub. We spoke to business owners at the produce, meat and fish markets to find out what they really need to keep feeding New Yorkers for years to come. (photo by Jessica Bal)