Saturday, April 10, 2010

Making A City Healthy

Five days a week, the Peaches & Greens truck rumbles through some of Detroit’s toughest neighborhoods with the call “Nutritious and Delicious” broadcasting from its loudspeaker. It’s like the Good Humor ice cream truck, except that the Bomb Pops and Creamsicles are replaced by spinach, sweet potatoes and strawberries.

Since the fall of 2008, Peaches & Greens has been trying to meet one of Detroit’s most pressing needs –access to fresh and affordable produce – by selling fresh fruits and vegetables to families on welfare assistance, seniors who can no longer drive, construction workers repaving the city’s battered streets and young people with no form of transportation.

The nonprofit organization that funds the truck, the Central Detroit Christian Community Development Corporation, also runs a storefront where they offer cooking classes in addition to selling produce and other healthy staples like grains, beans and dairy products. Together, these collective initiatives are trying to transform the city from a barren food desert into a community where the pounds of parsnips and plums outnumber the soda cans, 40-ounce beer bottles and cellophane wrapped snack cakes.

“Food desert” describes many of the nation’s largest cities that have little access to fresh food. The lack of grocery stores and fresh food in combination with the abundance of fast-food restaurants and convenience stores poses a significant threat to the health of the country’s urban residents. The recent rise of obesity and weight-related health conditions among inner city communities is alarming.

According to the Chicago-based research group Mari Gallagher, 92 percent of all food stamp recipients purchase their food at convenience stores, gas stations and pharmacies. The US Department of Agriculture estimates that the cost of groceries in food deserts is 10 percent higher than suburbs.

The idea for Peaches & Greens started over 10 years ago as Lisa Johanon’s frustration grew over the dearth of adequate fruits and vegetables in the city. “I’ve lived in Detroit for 22 years and week after week, I drive to the suburbs to get fresh produce for my family, because in the city, it is either awful or nonexistent, and to be honest, I was scared to buy any of it,” explains Johanon, who responded by founding Peaches & Greens and now serves as its executive director. Within the area that Peaches & Greens serves there is one grocery store and 26 liquor stores. Detroiters have to travel twice as far to get to a grocery store as they do to get to a fast-food restaurant or convenience store.

Johanon started to investigate the idea of a mobile produce truck as a way to get fresh food into the kitchens of Detroit residents. The main target audiences for the initiative were the poor, shut-ins and seniors. A few clicks on Craigslist turned up an old UPS truck with a price tag of $5,000. With the help of volunteers and donations of paint, shelves and a table-top refrigerator, the vehicle , which once sported he trademark UPS Pullman brown color, was converted to a colorful collage of bananas and watermelons.

Customers can step into the back of the truck and select their own produce or have it chosen for them. The mere selection process is empowering, given the very few food choices available to Detroiters. The truck is also equipped with a hand-held EBT machine for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits. About half of its customers use food stamps.

Peaches & Greens has garnered the attention of lawmakers, researches and media outlets. And Peaches & Greens was the impetus behind Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s Michigan Neighborhood Food Movers Project.

Learn more about Peaches & Greens at

1 comment:

mike said...

A great program - love the naming convention!