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FRESH FOOD, HEALTH NEEDS MET IN MATTAPAN

By: deleciousfood | July 16, 2023


Finding healthy food is a challenge in some Boston neighborhoods. Mattapan is one of them. For the past 12 years, the Mattapan Food and Fitness Coalition has worked to change that by hosting a weekly Farmer’s Market during the warmer months.


When the market opened for the season on July 14, Leonide Lacet smiled and kissed familiar faces as she picked greens, squash and beets in an urban plot behind Mattapan Square. Lace, who lives around the corner, was carrying two bags full of leafy greens that she learned to spot after deciding to eat healthier five years ago.


“They look fresh. They don’t have any bites,” Lacet said in a heavy Haitian accent, referring to the damage caused by rodent insects.


The market, which brings fruit and vegetables to Mattapan every Saturday from mid-July to October, is one of the few affordable options for healthy eating in the region. There are convenience stores and bodegas on almost every street corner, but only one supermarket. Longtime dietitian and community activist Vivien Morris has stopped calling her neighborhood a food wasteland.


“I don’t want to call us a desert exactly, but we are a community that has limited access to healthy food resources,” Morris said. “We formed the Mattapan Food and Fitness Coalition 12 years ago. One of our first projects was to open a farmers market. Mattapan had never had one before.


Morris thinks the lack of options has taken its toll on the community. Mattapan has the highest obesity rate in the city, according to the Boston Public Health Commission.

“Mattapan has some of the highest rates of chronic disease in Boston” and “other health issues related to diet and limited exercise,” Morris added.


She’s made it her mission to make sure the market provides fresh food that doesn’t cost too much. For example, a bunch of green cabbage costs about two dollars.


“We’re making every effort to make our food here more affordable,” Morris said. “When people think of going to farmers’ markets, they think, ‘Oh, I couldn’t afford it’, but what we’re doing is encouraging people who have SNAP benefits to use them here with the market.”


The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program is a monthly food benefit for low-income people, formerly known as food stamps. Morris said many find out how to claim these benefits when they go to the farmers market. It not only offers food, but also voter registration and access to government and nonprofit services.


Lace thinks the farmer’s market has helped transform his life. She urged her neighbors to take the opportunity to change their diet. “It’s very important to them because it can help them eat healthy,” Lacet said.


Shoelace is an example of the health benefits of market shopping.


“I have high blood pressure. Since I started eating healthy, my blood pressure has gone down,” she said. “My doctor has prescribed half of my meds now.”

Mattapan’s is one of 24 farmers markets in the city of Boston.


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