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Mobile food carts coming soon to Chicago’s ‘food desert’

File photo.  |  Brett Roseman~Sun-Times Media

File photo. | Brett Roseman~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: July 8, 2012 6:57PM

Fresh fruits and vegetables will be a whole lot easier to find and buy in Chicago, thanks to a mobile food cart ordinance approved Wednesday to shrink Chicago’s “food desert.”

The City Council approved Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s plan to authorize fresh produce carts, with 50 percent of them located in neighborhoods where residents cannot easily purchase fresh fruits and vegetables.

Instead of moving like nomads from place-to-place as a peddler’s license requires, the ordinance allows produce merchants to operate in a fixed locations during the course of the day. Uncut fruits, vegetables, nuts, grains and bottled water could also be sold for longer hours.

A pilot program will also allow up to 30 cart locations on the public way near CTA stations and other transportation hubs with high foot traffic within so-called “food deserts.”

The Emanuel administration expects to authorize up to 50 carts within the first two years, creating up to 100 jobs and shrinking the food desert by 2.5 square miles.

Northwestern University has agreed to evaluate the carts over the next two years to determine the health and economic benefits.

Emanuel has created five new farmers markets in Chicago neighborhoods starved for fresh fruits and vegetables.

He has also summoned the CEOs of Wal-Mart and other major retailers to a summit on “food deserts” that, he claims, produced plans to build 17 new stores and retrofit 19 existing stores to sell fresh produce in inner-city neighborhoods.

And the mayor has promoted urban agriculture — by championing an ordinance that expanded the maximum size of community gardens, eased fencing and parking requirements on larger commercial urban farms and allowed those farms to sell their wares at farmer’s markets.

The new mobile carts mark yet another step to fill the void that has left inner-city communities with precious few shopping choices.

Emanuel he is determined to make certain that “every resident has the opportunity in the city of Chicago to be within a mile of fresh fruits, vegetable and meats.

He added, “I’ve set a goal for the city in my first term to reduce the population of 450,000 people who don’t live within [close proximity] to fresh fruits and vegetables and meats, like others of us who take it as a given — that we cut that population in half. And this is another contribution to make good on that pledge.”

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