Tuesday, November 8

A Way to Make A Living: Operate a Green Cart

Mohammad Ali Ashraf with his Green Cart and van.
At five o’clock in the morning, a yellow van pulls up at 96th street between Lexington and Park Avenue. Mohammad Ali Ashraf then proceeds to set up his Green Cart by unloading boxes full of pomegranates, persimmons, and oranges. 

In 2008, in an effort to increase accessibility of fresh produce to the boroughs, Mayor Bloomberg signed Local Law 9, establishing 350 Green Carts permits each for Brooklyn and the Bronx, 150 permits for Manhattan, 100 for Queens, and 50 for Staten Island. Ashraf is one of 1,000 Green Cart operators in New York City. A Green Cart is one that can only sell raw fruits and vegetables, such as whole apples, bananas, carrots and berries.

According to the New York City Administrative Code, there are 4,100 mobile food cart permits in New York City and as many as 2,500 people on the waiting list for permits. More than half of the carts sell foods such as hot dogs, roasted nuts, and kebabs, while less than 10% of carts sell fruits and vegetables.
The produce from Ashraf's Green Cart comes from a
provider in Huntspoint, Bronx.

On the border between the Upper East Side and East Harlem, Ashraf’s Green Cart sits right across the street from an Associated Supermarket. According to Ashraf, he doesn’t feel that supermarkets threaten his business because “people come to me for just one or two things.” His customers are mostly those who work at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine nearby.

Originally from Bangladesh, Ashraf arrived in New York in 1995 and worked in a candy and newsstand. He lives with his wife, two sons, and a daughter in a one-bedroom apartment in the Bronx. He makes about $80 to $90 a day, and works from five in the morning till eight thirty at night. His wife works as a cashier from time to time. “I don’t work in December or February because it is too cold,” he said. During those two months, Ashraf is unemployed.

Although Ashraf did not disclose as to whether or not his cart receives financial assistance, Green Carts are different from any old cart that sell fruits and vegetables in that operators can get reduced-interest rate loans from ACCION USA. According to the NYC Green Cart website, vendors can get loans amounting to $5000, at interest rates of 6.99-9.99%.

Ashraf has been at the same location selling fruits and vegetables for three years. When asked what job he would rather have, he smiled and said, “When I find a better job than this one, I'll switch.”

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