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Your guide to food access in Mattapan

"You can't proclaim that you have a healthy Boston until all of your neighborhoods are healthy."

By Zipporah Osei December 1, 2023

One in three Massachusetts residents struggle with hunger and few communities know that better than Boston’s Mattapan neighborhood.

The options for affordable and nutritious food are limited compared to other neighborhoods in the city and with more fast food options than grocery stores and health disparities like shorter life expectancies and high rates of heart disease, residents have taken the issue into their own hands.

The Boston neighborhoods with the highest rates of food insecurity and inequities in food access over the last several decades are Mattapan, Roxbury, Dorchester, and East Boston. In 2021, Roslindale was added to that list. Mattapan remains one of the most food-insecure neighborhoods in the city, according to data from the Office of Food Access.

One of the people trying to change that is Shavel’le Olivier, executive director of Mattapan Food and Fitness Coalition. The coalition started in 2006 as a group of volunteers who saw how food insecurity was harming the health of their community and wanted to promote “health, wellness, and an active lifestyle for the Mattapan community.”

“Food access should be a human right. Right now, having food is a privilege and it should not be that way at all,” Olivier said.

Olivier was one of the first volunteers and in her time working on food insecurity in Mattapan, she said she’s seen a community eager to fill in the gaps in food access. In 2015, the coalition received a grant to help monetarily support grassroots solutions to the food insecurity problem. In the years since, they’ve helped fund the Edgewater food forest, led nutrition workshops, grown the reach of a seasonal farmer’s market, and more.

“We know that this community wanted to create more cohesion and take on projects on their own that will help to strengthen their neighborhood,” Olivier said.

Volunteers and staff members work at the Urban Farming Institute in April 2023. – Suzanne Kreiter\Globe staff

The coalition works closely with other organizations that share a similar commitment to food access in Mattapan. One of those groups is the Urban Farming Institute, an organization aiming to create a healthy community despite limited access to fresh produce by encouraging residents to grow and share food.

“If you go to the Star Market on River Street in Mattapan and then you go to the one in Chestnut Hill, you would think you are on two different planets. That’s what we’re trying to combat,” said Pat Spence, director of the Urban Farming Institute. “How are we able to give our community affordable, fresh food?”

They do that through an urban farmer training program, a farm stand with fresh, locally-grown produce, and community programs for seniors, men of color, and young people. Last year, the farm grew 17,400 pounds of food in Mattapan, and in partnership with other local farms, distributed 40,000 pounds. Ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday, they gave away free turkeys and boxes of fixings to families in need.

“What we’re actually doing is growing the community. We don’t just grow food, we grow people. That’s our motto,” Spence said. “We’re all working to keep the dollars in the community and certainly to be able to access fresh food, locally grown by farmers that actually live in the community.”

While efforts to build a healthier Mattapan have increased substantially in the last decade, the problem is far from solved.

“I wish there were 20 more of all of us because we still are just touching the surface. There’s so much need,” Spence said. “For Boston to be the best possible place, it has to be inclusive of everybody. You cannot have certain segments of Boston just lacking health. You can’t proclaim that you have a healthy Boston until all of your neighborhoods are healthy.”

See’s list of food access resources in Mattapan. Share any resources we missed in the form below or e-mail

Food banks/pantries and soup kitchens

  • Greater Boston Nazarene Compassion Food Pantry; 130 River St.

  • Voice of the Tabernacle Church – Mattapan; 47-49 Edgewater Drive

Grocery stores

  • America’s Food Basket of Mattapan; 926 Cummins Highway

  • Daily Table Grocery; 474 River St.

Community gardens and urban farms

  • Astoria Farm; 15 Flint St.

  • Ballou Urban Farm; 100 Ballou Ave.

  • Boston Nature Center Food Forest; 500 Walk Hill St.

  • Clark/Cooper Community Garden; Annual Fee: $70; 510 American Legion Highway

  • Edgewater Food Forest at River Street; 640 River St., Mattapan

  • Mattapan Food and Fitness Coalition; 1613 Blue Hill Ave. *Mattapan Square Farmers Market runs from July to August

  • Morton Street Farmers Collaborative; 632 Morton St.

  • Shangri-La Community Gardens; Annual Fee: $20 to $90 (depending on plot size); 74 Orlando St.

  • Fowler Clark Farm at the Urban Farming Institute; 487 Norfolk St. *Farm stand runs from June through mid-November

  • Woolson Community Garden; Annual Fee: $30; 44 Woolson St.

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