Making 'The Apple Pushers,' a Film About New York's Street Vendors

These "micro-entrepreneurs" did not hold back. They were brutally honest about their working conditions and the challenges they faced here in America.

But in spite of those difficulties, they were also becoming part of the fabric of the communities in which they worked. Gloria, for example, formed a co-op of other Ecuadorian women vendors to leverage wholesaler prices. She became quite close with the store owners on her street, supplying them with fresh Mexican vegetables. Bardo began sourcing organic vegetables from New Jersey to serve customer demand (which included restaurateurs). Shaheen struck up relationships at Hunts Point Terminal, one of the largest produce distributors on the East Coast, and was able to negotiate decent pricing, furthering his career as a distributor to several carts. I witnessed his interactions with the burly Italian wholesalers at Hunts Point. They teased him and clapped him on the back. And he smiled from ear to ear.

The concept of the film then evolved from food deserts to focus on these immigrants in search of the American Dream.

You might ask: Does it work? Are these vendors having an impact? Can mobile vending be an effective strategy to increase access to healthy foods?

The answer is yes. Mobile food carts are not part of a government funded program. This is free enterprise and capitalism. If only one cart succeeds, there will be produce in a particular neighborhood for a long time. According to a few distributors, several vendors are buying quantities of produce similar to that of restaurants. As such, meaningful amounts of fruits and vegetables are being sold to low-income neighborhood residents, especially by vendors who accept EBT (food stamp) cards. And there have been calls to create similar programs (and to show the film) in cities across the country where other municipalities are trying to figure out creative strategies to fight the obesity crisis.

Having finished our research, we shot the film, primarily on Super 16mm film, in 12 months thanks to a dedicated and talented team. Also during this time, the film was transferred and edited; the score composed (frame by frame); the narration written and then recorded; the color corrections infused (nearly 2,000 of them); the animation crafted; the graphics rendered; and the sound effects created. The film, 72 minutes in length, is now complete.

In November, we had the privilege of attending an event in Atlanta hosted by Arthur Blank (founder of the Home Depot and owner of the Atlanta Falcons) who convened an event after seeing the trailer for The Apple Pushers. I was thrilled to be asked to be part of a panel which consisted of CNN's chief medical correspondent, Sanjay Gupta, Dwayne Proctor from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's Childhood Obesity Team, and Cathy Nonas from New York's Department of Health, discussing ways to eradicate food deserts.

What was so exciting about that event was that the audience started brainstorming right in front of our eyes. Community bankers stood up and said, "We are open for business for entrepreneurs looking to solve this problem." Legislators started huddling with policy leaders and food activists. This was the kind of vision that Laurie had for such a film at the outset. She understood the power that a story could have in terms of inspiring others to action.

On January 11, the USDA hosted a special screening of The Apple Pushers in Washington, D.C., for policy leaders, heads of federal agencies, and others who are in a position to help spread the message of the film -- which is to think creatively about pushing back the borders of these food deserts. The room lit up after the screening, with agency and association heads wanting to bring the film back to their thousands of constituents -- to inspire them to action.

As Sanjay Gupta said in Atlanta, this is one problem that can be fixed. And if this film can inspire those in a position to fix it, well, that was the whole point.

Image: The Apple Pushers/50 Eggs.

The trailer, a calendar of upcoming screenings in major cities, and more information is available here.

Presented by

Mary Mazzio wrote, directed, and produced Lemonade Stories, A Hero for Daisy, Apple Pie, The Apple Pushers, and other documentaries. She founded the independent film company 50 Eggs.

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