Bodegas are known for their convenience, but a environmental initiative is looking to make them known for their fresh food, too.
Fresh Bodegas, a GrowNYC program, is installing refrigeration units in Harlem bodegas and bringing fresh fruits and vegetables to the locally owned convenience stores.
At Harlem’s Finest Mini Market on Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard at 120th Street, which recently received one of the new refrigeration units, owner Tineo Roque said he’s pleased with the customer response.
The additional fresh produce has helped him sell the few fruits he always had, like bananas, because customers notice the freshness and availability of the produce in the refrigerator. “I got more variety—now they’re selling more,” Roque said.
Popular choices are the fresh fruits and vegetables, he said, and juices in particular. But it has been difficult to steer people towards greens and away from bodega staples like meat-heavy deli sandwiches.
“The salad part is hard to sell,” Roque said. “They’re not used to it.”
GrowNYC, a citywide nonprofit that organizes environmentally conscious programs, partnered with the NYC Strategic Alliance for Health and Red Jacket Orchards, a family farm, to start the program. It is an extension of the Greenmarket, a citywide network of farmers’ markets, one of which comes to Columbia on Thursdays and Sundays.
Harlem resident Eric Jones said it was “not as hard as it used to be” to get fresh food in Harlem because of the increasing trend toward healthy eating.
“It’s in demand,” Jones said. “We all want to eat healthy. It’s the hot thing right now.” Fresh bodegas are “a start” in increasing the availability of fresh food in Harlem, he said.
While the total revenue of Roque’s store has not increased noticeably, he said, because people buy the fresh produce and juice in place of other products rather than in addition to them, Fresh Bodegas is about promoting easy access to healthy food, according to Cheryl Huber, assistant director of GrowNYC’s Greenmarket program.
“The goal of the program is to provide fresh food in the store where people are already shopping,” Huber said. “This really enhances what’s there.”
The refrigeration units have been funded by a USDA grant and are provided to the bodegas for free, according to Huber, and the fruits and vegetables are all from farmers in the New York City region.
“Because it’s coming from local farms, everything is seasonal,” Huber said. Red Jacket Orchards restocks the refrigerators once a week with fresh products.
“The response has been really great,” Huber said. “We started with a model where the bodega owners didn’t have to pay us for the fruits and vegetables until they were sold, and now they’re buying outright because they’ve had success.”
Huber said GrowNYC is currently working with the New York Academy of Medicine to evaluate the program.
While the program has yet to expand much farther west of Adam Clayton Powell, Huber said, “We’re working really hard to get local food into more neighborhoods. We’ll go where the need is greatest.”
Nash Elzydi, who has owned Hitham Deli and Supermarket at Manhattan Avenue and 116th Street since 2002, said fresh fruits and vegetables would help his business as he tries to pay for his newly renovated interior.
“It would be very good for the community,” Elzydi said. “More people around here need fresh fruits and drinks.”
One of his customers, Christian Gibbs, said he too would like to see more fresh food in the area.
“Eating healthy would be better than what people eat now,” he said. “They need to have a salad bar or something around. There’s no places around here.”
“Most of the people nowadays they prefer to eat something fresh. That’s very attractive for them,” Ali Albaberashi, who works behind the deli at Hitham, said.
He also said that although some locals prefer fresh food, they are not able to get it easily.
“Some people, they don’t know how they even get fresh food—that’s the problem,” Albaberashi said. “Most of the people go close by. They just buy what they find.”