Trucks near the Hunts Point food distribution markets.

Food distribution markets have few local fans

While some in the community say that there are economic benefits to having the food distribution markets as neighbors, others say they are a burden, not a blessing.

Pedestrians and trucks coexist near the Hunts Point food distribution markets.

Many residents say they wouldn’t miss markets if they left Hunts Point

Mention “Hunts Point” to anyone in the New York metropolitan area and often one thing comes to mind: the Hunts Point food markets. While some in the community admit that there are economic benefits to having the markets as neighbors, most feel it is a burden that residents didn’t ask for and shouldn’t have to take.

“You would think that the people in the community can benefit from it, but we don’t,” said Raphealata Norman, 36, a Bronx resident who works in Hunts Point.

The neighborhood is home to the largest food distribution center in the world: a collection of hundreds of vendors and distributors across three main markets, the Hunts Point Meat Market, New Fulton Fish Market and Hunts Point Produce Market, between them covering 330 acres on the southern half of the Hunts Point peninsula. The markets bring food up and down the east coast as far away as Virginia and generate $3 billion in sales annually.

Just the produce market alone covers 113 acres of property and 1 million square feet of interior space. It provides fresh produce to the city’s bodegas, high-end restaurants, restaurant suppliers and secondary wholesalers, and is the largest wholesale produce market in the world. Its diverse selection of fruits and vegetables from around the world is delivered to the Bronx fresh daily via plane, boat and tractor-trailer from 49 states and 55 countries. Still, that variety and diversity does little for food access in Hunts Point and Longwood, considered a “food desert” by experts.

And as a result, an estimated 15,000 trucks drive through the neighborhood every weekday, much to the anguish of residents who have to deal with the noise and pollution.

“I think they suck,” said James McMillan, 21, who lives in Hunts Point and was a former member of “Activists Coming to Inform our Neighborhood” (A.C.T.I.O.N) at The Point. “If they gave back, they’d be better,” he said.

Norman noted that there is a fee to shop in the market and that the market doesn’t take electronic benefit transfer cards (EBT), even though a large number of Hunts Point residents depend on them.

“The actual products don’t stay here in the neighborhood,” said Maggie Rourke, 29, assistant director of nutrition for Urban Health Plan. Outside of employment opportunities for the Hunts Point neighborhood, Rourke said that she sees no other benefits coming from the markets.

But Hunts Point residents aren’t only worried about the quality of their food. They are also concerned about the health of their environment.

“If the truck pollution went away, that’d be great,” said Skye Alvarez, 22, who has been working in the Hunts Point neighborhood for two years. “The asthma rate is the worst in the city.”

According to a city report on the markets’ operations, approximately 95 percent of the city’s food travels into New York City by truck, and most of those are coming to Hunts Point. Recent findings show that Hunts Point and Longwood has the third-highest asthma hospitalization rate among children in the city with a total of 88 per 10,000 children ages 5 to 14, more than twice the citywide rate. The rate is also more than twice the citywide rate for adults, accounting for 619 per 100,000 asthma hospitalizations.

Adolf Camacho, 43, a Hunts Point resident, said that the truck drivers are reckless and have no respect for the stop sign, although he also added some automobile drivers are at fault for this, as well. Some people said that they have never been to the markets, or have only been there a couple of times, due to the inconvenience of traveling there and lack of a vehicle.

However not all people in the community view the markets in a negative light. Hector Mercado, 21 and a volunteer at Rocking the Boat, noted that some of his friends work there, and that the opportunity for employment has to be seen as a benefit to the community. The markets employ between 7,000 and 10,000 workers, according to the New York City Food Policy Center at Hunter College.

The markets receive better reviews on the Longwood side of the Bruckner Expressway.  Guillermo Pacheco, a fruit vendor in Longwood, said that he believes the community benefits from the markets since he can buy cheaper fruit from there than the supermarket – savings he can then pass along to his customers.

“Hunts Point market is the cheapest of all the markets,” said David Feliz, 32, in Spanish. A Westchester resident who sells fruits and vegetables at a stand by the Simpson Street subway station, Feliz has been visiting the market daily for two years to purchase what he knows his customers like – grapes, oranges, tomatoes and bananas. He said there’s a significant difference in price from the Hunts Point Terminal Market to the local supermarket. According to Feliz, a box of grapes that he can get at the Hunts Point market for $20 can cost him up to $40 in his local supermarket.

Carmen Soto, 53, who also sells fruits and vegetables on a fruit stand near the Hunts Point Avenue subway station, said that the neighborhood is happy with the variety of products she is able to sell them at low prices, a fact that she considers to be a benefit to the community at a time when food prices are high.

The Hunts Point Produce Market is currently halfway through a seven-year lease signed by the Bloomberg administration in 2013. During earlier negotiations for the new lease, the city proposed investing $400 million, with the co-ops in the market paying half. However, this deal fell through. Once the lease runs out, the market has the option of moving, and New Jersey could be a likely spot.

For those who rely on the markets to be able to sell their food, the prospect that the markets could one day leave for New Jersey may make them uncomfortable. For others, they see it as an opportunity. Asked if he cared if the markets were to someday leave, McMillan flatly answered, “No, I wouldn’t.”

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