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FreshDirect: The Fresh Face of Environmental Racism in the South Bronx

FreshDirect has a multi-million dollar budget to brand itself as a lifestyle – a local, sustainable, farm-to-table convenience for foodies across the city. But peek behind the green curtain and what emerges is a diesel trucking operation trying to set up shop in the overburdened South Bronx – long the dumping ground for the full range of city hazards “zoned” for our neighborhood – and with a windfall $140 million subsidy blamed on Bloomberg by de Blasio while the boondoggle barrels on.

Since its inception, FreshDirect never bothered to deliver to the South Bronx until it thought we’d be foolish enough to trade our health for its services (at nearly double the cost of our local grocers). Its half-hearted promises about (part time, low wage) jobs and a partial fleet of green trucks (already broken) are sugar pills it thought would distract us from the health consequences its move would inflict.

Fresh Direct Ignores the South Bronx Health Crisis

Fresh Direct ProtestersYet Fresh Direct – true to its “go forth & conquer” advertising strategy – thumbed its nose at the health crisis and environmental visioning in the South Bronx and proceeded to break ground three days before Christmas last year, ripping out trees and overturning land with documented evidence of a Native American settlement and burial ground.  Huddled inside a heated tent for the groundbreaking ceremony were the lobbyists and the Bronx politicians whose Christmas parties FreshDirect sponsored; outside three security fences were more than a hundred South Bronx residents on a freezing Monday morning asserting our right to breathe.

They totally ignored the one in four of our children have asthma and our community’s asthma rate is eight times the national average. The cause is no mystery: diesel truck-intensive industries and highways saturate and surround our neighborhood. Even the Legionnaires outbreak was linked to our heightened susceptibility because of elevated respiratory illness.

Instead, FreshDirect, by its own (un-revised) reporting, wants to bring 938 more diesel truck trips through our residential streets every day while relying on a 21-year-old environmental impact statement (EIS) to assess the effect. The CEO even said that if the company had to do a new EIS, they probably wouldn’t come.

Reasons for opposing FreshDirect are manifold, urgent, and clear. The marketing campaigns they feed us are malicious and slippery with misdirection.

Our Plan versus Fresh Directs

Talk about jobs is equally disingenuous. The nearly $140 million subsidy FreshDirect seeks would support a salary of over $100,000 per job they “promise” to bring, yet Bronxites will maybe land a non-unionized, non-living wage, part-time job because FreshDirect is unfairly exempt from NYC living wage requirements as a result of the company’s heavy lobbying. And if FreshDirect doesn’t create even one job? They still keep more than $100 million in subsidies.

The public land FreshDirect proposes to occupy is part of a lot that lines the entire South Bronx waterfront flood zone, already oversaturated with multiple waste transfer stations, fossil fuel power plants and truck distribution hubs.  Four locally elected officials, including Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, Councilwoman Maria del Carmen Arroyo, state Sen. José M. Serrano and U.S. Rep. José E. Serrano, have called for a moratorium on all new development, including FreshDirect, until the health consequences of the current uses of this State-owned land can be evaluated.

By contrast, the Mott Haven-Port Morris Waterfront Plan – which includes the proposed Fresh Direct site – advocates for recreational open space, storm surge protection and industrial use mitigation along the waterfront instead of more trucks. This plan, community-designed and driven, stands to receive priority status by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, a first for our neighborhood.

Speak Out

Every now and again, in a sea of injustice, truth wins: If you speak long enough, the politicians will listen; if you speak loud enough, the investors will retreat; if you speak multiple languages, your message will stretch from the streets to the churches to the courts; and if you speak enough truth, the community will be filled with the audacity to expect clean air to breathe. They have been calling this a done deal since February 2012, but it is far from done.

We need all people of conscience to stand with us in calling for an end to this project. There is still time to stop it. To learn more about our ongoing litigation, our boycott against FreshDirect or our environmental justice waterfront tours, visit us at