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Pushing Apples in the Big Apple



The young immigrant now earns her living by selling fruits and vegetables in her New York neighborhood. But as she explains in the documentary film The Apple Pushers, her harrowing journey to the United States was fraught with danger.
“I jumped into the sewer,” she tearfully recalls in Spanish. “But they attacked us at the border.”
Not exactly what you’d expect to hear during a documentary about food deserts, eh?
Narrated by actor Edward NortonThe Apple Pushers follows five street vendors who are part of a unique program called the NYC Green Cart Initiative, which deploys pushcart vendors to bring produce to underserved New York neighborhoods. It’s a somewhat typical story for the obesity field, a tale about a public-private partnership working to tackle a local problem through creative means.
But the film also helps viewers get to know the vendors pushing those carts around, telling the touching stories of five immigrants striving to achieve the American dream. Through their work, these new Americans also are helping combat an American epidemic.
“They are entrepreneurs. They’re micro-entrepreneurs, but they’re entrepreneurs,” says filmmaker Mary Mazzio. “This is a group of people that are in service to our nation, in our nation’s poor cities.”
Since premiering the film at the Aspen Ideas Festival last year, Mazzio has taken The Apple Pushers across the country, screening it for food advocates, bloggers, government officials and members of the media. Astute Inside Track readers might remember she took part in a special webcast on food deserts in November hosted by CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta and sponsored by our friends at the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation.
What Mazzio finds is that the audiences not only enjoy the film, but they are prompted to action.
For example, Mazzio recently screened the movie for federal policymakers, health advocates and food policy organizations in Washington at an event sponsored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Following the screening, audience members did something exciting, Mazzio recalls.
They talked to one another about how they could work together. And the same thing happened when Mazzio went to Atlanta to appear on the webcast.
“There were so many stakeholders in the room that would normally not be talking to each other,” Mazzio recalls. “We saw this really exciting kind of catalyzing discussion afterward… That’s what’s really exciting to me about the film.”
The film is earning much praise from policymakers and critics alike, including former Let’s Move! executive director Robin Schepper, who said that the “stories of these recent immigrants made me realize that getting more fruits and vegetables into low-income neighborhoods is more than a public health issue. It’s opportunity, jobs, community and achieving the American dream of entrepreneurship.”
Mazzio plans to screen the film often this spring, noting she’s gotten requests from everyone from “bloggers in Seattle to huge associations with 150,000 members.” She’s particularly proud that people seem to be catching onto the documentary’s message by finding ways to tackle food deserts in their own community. 
“You can only hope that people will actually respond to your film, other than, ‘Oh, that was a nice hour and a half,” Mazzio says, laughing.
Mazzio urges people to get involved in their own community by working with their mayor or city council to increase produce access. Mazzio also says people can work with business improvement districts and other civic organizations to encourage fruits and vegetable sales in underserved areas. 
So what happened to Sahari, the young woman in the film who risked her life to come to the United States? She’s now married and earning a steady living selling produce. “I came here because I have big dreams,” she says in the film.