The Great Veggie Debate Rages On at City Hall

Community advocates and trade organizations from the food industry continued to butt heads today over Mayor Bloomberg’s proposed legislation to permit an additional 1,500 vendors to sell fresh produce in low-income neighborhoods.

Just two days before the City Council’s Consumer Affairs Committee is set to vote on the so-called "Green Cart Legislation," advocates and opponents of the bill held back-to-back protests in front of City Hall.

Community groups and healthcare officials told The Observer that City Council members have retreated from the bill in response to the food lobby’s agressive campaign to block it on the grounds that the carts will unfairly compete with small grocers. Some even argue that the produce will sit in the sun for long periods of time and endanger people’s health.

The Small Business Congress of New York, a trade federation with 70 members (many from the Korean community), wants the government to conduct a market study to determine the impact of the Green Cart Legislation first and mount an educational campaign to change unhealthy eating patterns.

Supporters of the bill, like the Citizens Committee for Children that organizedone of the protests, insist it includes adequate measures to protect small grocers. It calls for the added carts to be gradually phased over a two-period into only those neighborhoods that have been tagged by the Department of Health for having high rates of obesity and insufficient supplies of fresh fruits and vegetables, and allows store owners to apply for permits to sell outside their stores.

While both groups agree that supermarkets are a better long-term solution, those take time to develop–whereas additional vendor permits could increase access within a couple of months.

Karen Washington, who runs the La Famiglia Verdi Community Garden Coalition, a group of five independent farmers’ markets in the Bronx, rejected the food lobby’s argument that the free market should dictate the supply of green vegetables.

"Some of these vendors are even saying, if we really wanted vegetables, more stores would have them," Ms. Washington said outside City Hall. "Well, duh, I’m here representing the community to tell them they are wrong. We need produce."

The Great Veggie Debate Rages On at City Hall