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Eat your vegetables: City

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During a hearing last Thursday, the Council's Consumer Affairs Committee discussed Mayor Michael Bloomberg's plan to issue special permits to vendors who sell wholesale fruits and vegetables in designated city zones. City Health Commissioner Thomas R. Frieden told the committee the permits would give New Yorkers more access to healthier foods. "The goal of this legislation is to increase consumption of fruits and vegetables in certain areas of New York City," Frieden said. "More than 1.1 million New Yorkers are obese and another 2 million are overweight."In order to receive a permit, a vendor would have to present a produce cart or vehicle for inspection, following the certification of a city application, Frieden said. The vendor would then operate in one of 34 selected areas of the five boroughs. In Queens, there would be five areas located within the 100th and 101st precinct in the Rockaways, 102nd precinct in Richmond Hill, 106th precinct in Ozone Park, the 103rd and 113th precincts in Jamaica, and the 105th precinct in Laurelton, Bellrose and Cambria Heights.Committee chair Councilman Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans), who has been participating in a national dieting campaign, praised the initiative but had reservations on how it would affect small businesses that regularly sell produce."My district in southeast Queens faces enormous challenges with respect to this issue - in the last year we've had four of 10 local supermarkets close," he said. "I want to ensure that unspecific placement of green carts throughout these precincts doesn't result in the closing of more" grocery stores and bodegas. Local business leaders agreed. Sung Soo Kim, president of the Queens-based Small Business Congress, told the committee that the plan could result in unfair competition between small businesses and cart owners."Those neighborhoods covered by the bill are fully supported with full-line produce items by the existing 1,200 Korean-American grocers and 1,400 neighborhood supermarkets," Kim said.Comrie pushed for the city to keep working on the plan because of the lack of good places to get produce in inner-city neighborhoods. In black neighborhoods such as Bedford-Stuyvesant, Bushwick and Harlem, only 20 to 40 percent of bodegas carry fruit and only two to six percent carry vegetables, according to the councilman."It is my hope that the administration and the Council will work together to address concerns around this proposal and find a solution that addresses the core goal of providing quality fruits and vegetables in low-income communities," he said.Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at ipereira@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 146.

Updated 6:57 pm, October 10, 2011
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