Access to healthy food and food insecurities are compounding realities in The Bronx and are major contributors to the borough being a food desert. The Bronx is the largest supplier of different products and foodstuffs, by way of the N.Y.C Terminal Produce Market. It supplies vegetables and fruits to over “22 million people within 50 miles of the market“. According to the N.Y.C website reports, “It’s revenues exceed $2 billion dollars annually and it is more than any other Produce Market in the world!”
New York is a city of extremes. The chasm between the populations in the city, in obvious ways, particularly in the food system, is vast. And definitely, no greater place can this be seen in New York than in The Bronx. Mott Haven and Melrose are two examples of South Bronx neighborhoods where access to healthy and fresh produce is limited. Compared to the rest of the city, these two areas rank 8th for the percentage of obese adults and 7th for percentage of adults with diabetes according to the most recent release of NYC Health Profiles.
The paradox is that The Bronx is the hub and deposit of produce for most businesses and millions of people in the North East, an absurdity given that this food is not consumed by most of The Bronx community, but rather bypasses it. Get the idea from this; located in New York’s 15th congressional district, The Bronx has the highest rate of hunger in the USA. It is identified as a food desert, lacking access to healthy but affordable foods. The shortage of healthy and affordable supermarkets in the Bronx causes residents to rely on bodegas (local corner stores), who are the unsung heroes of the community, but rarely do bodegas offer healthy nutritious food. The few fruits and vegetables sold in these corner establishments, would more often than naught, not past stringent supermarket standards, forcing families to choose between bad and worse.
Add onto that the marketing blitz of cheap, unhealthy foods, which are high in fat, salt, and sugar, and it’s no wonder The Bronx is one of the communities with a high rate of diabetes-related mortality. Communities such as these are common in inner cities and enclaves of black and brown populations throughout the United States.
Many in these disinvested communities have been clamoring for healthy alternatives that can help transform the way they eat and live. Full-service supermarkets, which tend to offer varieties of fresh, affordable fruits and vegetables, are less available in minority and low-income communities. However small grocers, fast food restaurants and bodegas that generally sell nutritionally – poor foods, higher calorie, and beverages are more prevalent in low-income neighborhoods than in wealthier neighborhoods.
After decades of abandonment by the city, the community is waking up to these disparities and forging ahead to see what can be done to help their neighborhoods and bring a shift to the current realities. I caught up with a social entrepreneur, Henry Obispo who has spent years creating change and bringing access to his beloved South Bronx community.
If you have ever placed a seed or a plant clipping into a glass of water in this hopes that it will develop roots, you have practiced a form of hydroponics.
Hydroponics is a way that Henry has aimed at creating nutritious food locally that can then be fed to the community. As a modern branch of agriculture, where plants are grown but without the use of soil, this form of agricultural technology is positioning itself as a differentiator in the food-justice world. Henry sees this model as a viable way to empower locals to take control of their health, by educating and creating access, so that the local population could start growing on their food autonomously. This form of agricultural-technology (ag-tech), offers a viable solution, as it can be employed on rooftops across The Bronx, as land has now become expensive, with The Bronx fast becoming the center of new construction and development. Developers have been descending on the borough and snatching up land and properties to build luxury high-rises in unprecedented numbers, setting the scene for a Bronx divided into have and have-nots.
Let’s talk about this social entrepreneur who has been telling me so much about The Bronx and his vision, Henry Obispo. Henry founded The United Business Cooperative Organization (UBC), which is a business and community cooperative based in the South Bronx. This was the first of its kind in New York State and was the winner of the “Thrive Competition” $100,000 award from the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC), as the most innovative project and organization servicing and impacting the local population. As President of the UBC, Henry created well-known initiatives around health in The Bronx including the Bronx Salad, The Bronx Green Menu, supporting dozens of local minority and immigrant restaurants, institutions and schools in The Bronx. Henry’s goal remains to transform his local community, by focusing on a sustainable model of health and wellness, powered by entrepreneurship.
Henry decoded to build on everything he created to start a revolution around Food and Tech, a social-entrepreneurship venture focused on sustainable, zero-carbon-footprint, zero-waste, hyper-local food, grown with hydroponic technology, to produce cold pressed juice and plant-based vegan food in his home, The Bronx and he is set to open in the Spring of 2020, at the Iconic Venture Center Building on 2500 3rd Avenue Bronx.
Henry is launching BORN JUICE. Born Juice aim’s to create a hub where the focus is on sustainability, growth, agricultural technology and access to healthy food. Born Juice will showcase what it means to grow food through green technology and create a hyper local system where the gaps within sustainability are closed, addressing issues many of the environmental and climate reality affecting humanity and the planet. Born Juice will create new jobs all positions will be with Bronx locals.