What's the Last Food Mile? Show us.

By: Hannah L. Walters

On a whim, a hungry commuter scoops up a lone banana from a corner bodega in New York City. She snaps and peels the skin as she continues on to her train. Like so many others who are happily munching on bananas across the city, she’s removed from the grind, the planning, and the perseverance that made her snack so readily available.

Many hours prior to her purchase, bright fluorescent lights float above men and women milling their way around the Hunts Point Produce Market in the Bronx — a large warehouse in which produce from as near as New England and as far as Latin America makes its way into the city. Food suppliers and distributors arrive as early as 2 a.m. to inspect, haggle and finally purchase produce. By 4 a.m., the produce is on trucks, bound for bodegas, restaurants and grocery stores in Manhattan. From the ever-important distribution center, the bananas have entered a system of small, anonymous delivery trucks.

The rattling of one of these trucks from Hunts Point — filled with produce — echoes in the nearly empty streets of Manhattan. While the banana might have avoided gridlock this early in the day, the delivery of other items — like ice — will contend with the clogged streets and aggravated drivers of late-afternoon NYC. Despite the odyssey so many foods move through each day, it is this final mile that can be the most crucial, the most precarious.

Mid day milk delivery in Boston neighborhood. 

Mid day milk delivery in Boston neighborhood. 

So often in life, the last mile is always the hardest. Whether you’re running a marathon, driving cross-country or taking a grueling exam — the homestretch requires that extra bit of will power, of focus, of exertion.

When it comes to food, the last mile (which isn’t always literally one mile) is actually considered such a logistical challenge that it’s become a formal term in the discipline of supply chain management. Even though the last mile presents some of the greatest obstacles to food movers, it is one of the least ambient, inconspicuous segments of food’s journey to a store, café or home.

Most people hardly notice a truck as it idles, partially blocking a lane of traffic, or a delivery man swinging open a café door to get a dolly of packaged drinks through. The way that these actions have melded into everyday scenery is in an indication that the system is quietly humming along underneath the consumer’s nose.

What if we — the consumers — paid more attention to the early mornings, the tight delivery schedules or the congested streets that make the last mile such a challenge for truck drivers, suppliers, farmers and store owners? How is the last mile changing with on-demand delivery and meal kits? What might we learn about ourselves and our expectations of the global food system if we just watched who came and went at our favorite food spots and our own front doors?

What if we did more than just paid attention, but actually captured and shared the last mile in our cities?

Where do you see evidence of “The Last Mile”? We at Food+City would love to see it too. Tag pictures with #TheLastFoodMile on Instagram to help us show The Last Mile delivery in all its glory — incessant, flawed, miraculous, innovative, inefficient, scientific and artful.