How to Eat Healthy in the Big City — and Not Have to Pay For It

Despite the controversies surrounding the legality of Bloomberg’s citywide soda ban, it’s clear that New Yorkers need to eat better. In 2009, the Department of Health reported that just 6.3% of adults living in Bronx County regularly ate enough servings of fruits and vegetables per day. Compared to the state’s 27.1% average, that’s pretty low.

While there are now over 60 Greenmarkets across the city — with ten regular and youth markets in the Bronx alone — that have helped to alleviate the growing threat of food desertification in the outer boroughs, they are only open seasonally. That leaves many New Yorkers without fresh produce for most of the year.  During the off-seasons, one has to hope the local bodega or corner store is stocked with more than just canned food and snacks. But no one has to live in a food desert. Growing fruits, vegetables, and herbs is as easy as finding some old black bean cans, a bag of soil, and some seeds.

Indoor and fire escape gardening is so easy, it can become an activity for kids, whose eating habits are still malleable. For busy urban kids with limited space, the easiest edible plants to grow are herbs. Innovative use of household cans and jars can be filled with soil and seeds and left on sunny windowsills.  Cilantro and mint are good for less sunny apartments, while lavender, basil, coriander, dill, and oregano prefer sunny windows or fire escapes.

Fire escapes can also be good homes for growing lettuces, tomatoes, strawberries, or ground cherries. Large, shallow planters are great beds for both, as long it is wide with enough room for four inches deep of soil and good sun. If there isn’t good soil for sale nearby, this is a great option because the lettuce/brassica family is great for leveling the soil’s pH as well as drawing heavy metals out. After a season of lettuces, the soil you found outside might be viable for growing other things as well.

Others with less time can spend just one afternoon building a home hydroponic system, or a DIY self-watering system, and have fresh salads from their living room and fire escape gardens. 

It’s clear why Mayor Bloomberg wants to get New Yorkers back on track health-wise. Though the most recent numbers are from a few years ago, it’s clear we’re growing. 60% of New Yorkers who have self-reported their height and weight are obese, as well as 24% of our kindergarteners. Since today’s food is better traveled than most people are, we have lost out on both taste and nutrition. After making a trip that lasts nearly 2,000 miles, vegetables taste tired and old and we don’t want to eat them. It’s time New Yorkers start supplementing their diets with fresh delicious food — and you can’t get much more local than your fire escape!B