Grow NYC's Fresh Bodegas Program Expands to Central Harlem

By: Michele Wolfson

Yesterday, Lenox Finest Food Market at 110 Lenox Avenue, became the first store to take part in The Fresh Bodegas program in Central Harlem. GrowNYC and Red Jacket Orchards have partnered up to create Fresh Bodegas where regular deliveries of produce from the Wholesale Greenmarket and Red Jacket Orchards are brought to a subset of identified Healthy Bodegas' in parts of Brooklyn and Harlem. These are areas of the city with particularly limited access to fresh produce.

Now the corner store has a refrigerator stocked with fresh, healthy, affordable food. Owner of Lenox Finest Food Market, Mike Alhyani, states, "The new fridge evens the playing field for local products because it is usually only large companies that supply bodegas with fridges filled with unhealthy products like soda and beer." Until today, this place had never seen the likes of any fresh produce; it is a little refrigerator but it's filled with big possibilities.

The initiative to bring fresh items like kale, apples and carrots to bodegas is crucial to help fight the rising rates of obesity because it's an epidemic in this community that is largely due to poor nutrition. Approximately 2 in 3 food stores in East and Central Harlem are bodegas, compared with 1 in 3 food stores polled on the Upper East Side. While offering convenient hours and locations, bodegas have a more limited product selection than supermarkets and other stores do.

The community was excited to see that efforts are being made to deliver fresh produce to their neighborhood. Cooking demos gave instructions on how to create quick and healthy snacks in their own kitchen by using new ingredients sold in the bodega. Kids went from eating potato chips to kale chips and guess what? Many of them really liked the kale chips! One child actually gave away his potato chips to his mother after he tasted the kale chips made by Nourishing NYC.

Nourishing NYC founder and chef, Gina Keatley also used seasonal produce to make carrot, apple, and ginger juice. Keatley told the audience that they could "add seltzer to the beverage and make a different kind of healthy soda for every season." Local residents lined up to make themselves some juice and the feedback was very positive.

Harlem Seeds also conducted another well-received cooking demo outside of Lenox Finest Food Market. Seasonal, local, fresh veggies with noodles made up an Asian stir-fry that filled the streets with a mouthwatering aroma and it lived up to its high expectations. A dish made with chicken with mushrooms, carrots, peppers, garlic had locals asking, "What kind of chicken is this? It's so good! It is light and delicious." It turns out the chicken was actually vegetarian and made from soy products. Everyone was astonished at how good it was because it tasted so authentically like chicken.

Bodegas have no shortage of foot traffic in Harlem, so they make a great place for produce to be sold. Adding local produce to their shelves will allow them to make more of a profit and will also provide a new outlet for farmers to make more money as well. The best part is that the people of Harlem now have access to fresh, local fruits and vegetables at an affordable price. One lady who has been a resident of Harlem for over 60 years said, "These people who organized this are wonderful. God bless them." That was the general consensus in Harlem, making it a very special day for those who participated in celebrating their revamped bodega.

Refrigerators will be delivered soon to these bodegas in Central Harlem:

S & L Deli & Grocery 2254 Adam Clayton Powell

USA Deli Grocery 180 Lenox Ave

Harlem's Finest Market 2001 Adam Clayton Powell

Lex King/St. Nicholas Corp 40 St. Nicholas Avenue

145th Finest Gourmet Deli 2726 Frederick Douglass Blvd

Photos: Michele Wolfson

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