Healthy Bodega Initiative

by CSWSmovie

Here in New York, we love our bodegas. No matter what borough you live in, they are as ingrained into the urban landscape as apartment stoops and subway posts. But while bodegas are great for grabbing over-sugared coffee, a six-pack to bring to a friend’s apartment, or a $3 umbrella when you get caught in the rain,  a source of healthy eating options they are not. For some of us this is hardly a concern, but for many people who live in underserved communities, bodegas have become a main source of food, because proper grocery stores haven’t been brought to their area. It’s no coincidence that these neighborhoods without grocery stores have some of the highest rates of diabetes, obesity and other major health problems.

Enter the Healthy Bodega Initiative, which has set out to change some of that. With practical, implementable ideas in mind (giving bodegas refrigerators that are shaped to hold produce, not just soda and beer, for example) it’s rehsaping in small but meaningful ways how these communities can feed themselves. The initiative recently teamed up with Red Jacket Orchards, a family farm from the Fingerlakes,  which is helping to supply a lot of the produce that the bodegas will start to sell.

I had a chance to do a Q&A with Adam Gordon from Red Jacket Orchards to talk about the initiative, why it’s so important, and what recipe he’ll be using this summer with all that produce he has on hand.

Donations can be made here. Red Jacket must raise the entirety of its funds by August 3rd or else they lose all donations made so far – just something to keep in mind if you spread the word. I’ll be leaving a progress bar and link to the fund-raising page at the bottom of the I Can be Jell-O homepage for the next 6 weeks.

And lastly, because we do love all that bodegas currently do for us, leave in the comments your favorite item your local bodega sells. (Mine is Hi-Chew candy.)


Can you briefly explain the objective of the Healthy Bodega Initiative, and why you feel this project is so important?

The Healthy Bodegas Initiative is important because it works to bring healthy, local food access to all New Yorkers.  Some New Yorkers have access to the best food in the world, while others in less privileged areas go without access to any healthy food, let alone fresh produce.  Our farm is proud to be on the menus of some of the best restaurants in the city, but we believe that everyone deserves access to healthy food and we are working to make that a reality.

For those who don’t live in New York CIty, can you explain a bit what bodegas tend to sell?

Bodegas are a ubiquitous type of store in New York City communities and they primarily sell alcohol, cigarettes, soda, and processed foods.  The problem is that there many neighborhoods in New York that lack access to a supermarket or other food options, and the bodegas become their primary source for food.  The bodegas become real fixtures in the community and all the infrastructure to support them is set up by processed food companies. The soda companies will give them refrigerators designed for soda, and not let them sell produce with them.  Healthy food requires special handling because it is fresh and without chemical stabilizers, and right now many bodegas don’t have the infrastructure support to sell it.  We are trying to fix that.

How did Red Jacket Orchards come to partner with the NYC Department of Health?

Our Healthy Bodegas Project started when Michael Hurwitz of Greenmarket and Donya Williams of the Dept. of Health of NYC approached us to help solve the problem of the lack of healthy food access in under-served communities. We are a small family farm, but we have a unique capacity in NYC and we began discussions on how to use that to help battle the inequities of our food system. Our Healthy Bodegas Project is what came from those conversations.

How will you get people to choose produce over the processed products already available in the store?

We are working a number of different angles.  We building a strong visual presence to identify the produce and highlight in the store with signs and info cards.   We are doing cooking demos at the bodegas and reaching out to community groups in the neighborhood.  We are are designing Healthy Bodegas branded refrigerators to help keep the product fresh and give it visibility.

Why isn’t your mission to simply bring more grocery stores to these areas?

We are lucky enough to be living in a time and place where many people are attempting to correct these sorts of inequities. There are groups working to bring more grocery stores to these neighborhoods and we support their work.  There are so many groups and individuals that we learn from, but I think the most inspiring thing is the feeling in the air that comes from a lot of little steps happening at the same time. There is a lot of energy around solving these problems and I hope we all see a lasting solution come to fruition.  The infrastructure we are creating will be able to support grocery stores in these communities, as well as other types of businesses.

If I donate, what will my money help to do? Is there a non-monetary way people can help out?

The kickstarter campaign is important. It will allow us to expand the program to a point where it will be come self-sustaining.  We need money to build infrastructure that doesn’t yet exist but will do a lot of good and allow farmers a new way to reach customers in these communities.  Other than contributions to the campaign, going to these bodegas and buying the produce is a great way to support the initiative. We will be listing the bodegas we are working with on our Kickstarter page.

Lastly, can you share with us a recipe that would feature some of the produce you’ll be harvesting this summer?

Stone fruits are coming in soon and this recipe is great with them!

Grandma’s Apple Kuchen (pronounced Kugen)

Emily Nicholson’s German dessert made from apples or summer fruits as available.

1 cup bisquick
1/4 cup of sugar
1 egg
brown granulated sugar
1/4 cup butter
cinnamon and some nutmeg
5 or 6 apples (quick cooking) also can use sliced apricots (cut in half and placed bottom side up) peaches and plums when in season.

Mix bisquick, sugar, egg and enough milk to make soft batter. Spread into well greased (7 x 11 approx.) pan. Slice apples thinly and spread across pan, uniformly together. Sprinkle brown sugar and spices over fruit. Dot with slices of butter. Bake at 400 degrees on bottom shelf for 10 to 15 min. Transfer to top shelf to brown top. Bakes quickly so watch and test with fork to soft texture.

(Bottom image via Lost Forest After Dark)