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"Skinny" Fridges Provide Healthy Produce In City Bodegas

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Obesity is a major problem in the city's low-income neighborhoods, but now a pilot program is underway aimed at providing a better alternative. NY1's Rebecca Spitz filed the following report.

A skinny refrigerator in a Harlem bodega is filled with huge possibilities, as it makes Lenox Food Market the first store in Manhattan to take part in the Fresh Bodegas Initiative.

The fridge is filled with fresh apples, kale and fruit juices, which is a novelty for a city bodega but a necessary one.

"A lot of people don't want to eat fast food, they want vegetables too, they want greens," said bodega owner Mike Alhyani.

The program is a partnership among the New York Strategic Alliance for Health, GrowNYC and Red Jacket Orchards, an upstate farm that is offering bodegas fresh, local produce at wholesale prices.

"Everybody loves a good apple, so all you have to do is work with the store owner to provide him the infrastructure in the sense of the refrigerator and the wholesale purchasing and everybody wins," said GrowNYC Executive Director Marcel Van Ooyen.

For a one-time $200 fee, Red Jacket Orchards offers bodegas produce at a wholesale price. If they wish, store owners can raise the price and keep the profit.

"We saw this opportunity as our chance to really test the theory if you put in fresh vegetables in a maintained environment, will people actually consume more fruits and vegetables?" said Strategic Alliance for Health Director Javier Lopez.

While it is still very early in the process, in Harlem signs looked positive.

"It gives the kids a chance to come out and eat fresh vegetables instead of always eating fried food, so it's healthy for them," said a local.

"Hopefully it tastes good when I cook it for them," said another.

A similar program already exists in central Brooklyn, where there are 11 bodegas in the Fresh Bodegas Program.

A & H Deli has participated for the past two months:

"I've got some customers who come right away and say 'What's this? There's something different here, I want to try it,'" said bodega owner Alexis Herrera. "Other customers are a little hesitant to try it, that's when I come out and say, 'Listen, first one on me.'"

Back in Manhattan, optimism abounds, and GrowNYC says eight more bodegas in Harlem will soon join the program.

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