Finding healthy foods is a challenge in certain neighborhoods in Boston. Mattapan is one of them. For the past 12 years, the Mattapan Food and Fitness Coalition has worked to change that by organizing a weekly farmers market during the warmer months.
When the market opened for the season on July 14, Leonide Lacet smiled and hugged familiar faces as she picked through greens, squash and beets in a city lot behind Mattapan Square. Lacet, who lives around the corner, carried two bags full of leafy greens that she learned how to spot after deciding to eat healthier five years ago.
“They look fresh. They don’t have any bites on them,” Lacet said with a heavy Haitian accent, referring to damage done by gnawing insects.
The market, which brings fruits and vegetables to Mattapan every Saturday from mid-July until October, is one of few affordable options for healthy food in the area. There are convenient stores and bodegas on almost every corner, but only one supermarket. Vivien Morris, a registered dietitian and longtime community activist, stopped short of calling her neighborhood a food desert.
“I don’t want to call us exactly a desert, 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 hadn’t had one before.”
Morris believes a lack of options has taken a 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 chronic disease rates in Boston” and “other health-related issues that are related to diet and limited exercise,” Morris added.
She has been on a mission to have the market provide the fresh food that doesn’t cost too much. For instance, a bunch of collard greens costs about two dollars.
“We make every effort possible 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 do is encourage people who get SNAP benefits to utilize them here with the market.”
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program is a monthly food benefit for people with low-income, formerly known as food stamps. Morris said many find out how to apply for those benefits when they come to the farmers market. It not only offers food, but also voter registration and access to government and nonprofit services.
Lacet believes the farmers market has helped transform her life. She urged her neighbors take advantage of the opportunity to make a change in their diet. “It’s very important for them, because it can help them to eat healthy,” Lacet said.
Lacet is an example of the health benefits of shopping at the market.
“I suffer from high blood pressure. Since I started eating healthy, my blood pressure went down,” she said. ”My doctor put me on half of my medication now.”
Mattapan's is one of 24 farmers markets in the city of Boston.