A group of architects, foodies, environmentalists, gardeners, and youth gathered on Saturday, June 23 to check out the neighborhood efforts by the Mattapan Food and Fitness Coalition (MFFC) to make Mattapan a great place to bike, walk, and find affordable, healthy food.
Mattapan is a mostly residential Boston neighborhood, which contains some beautiful natural areas as well some of Boston’s more challenging sections. The tour, which was sponsored by Common Boston, a free weeklong festival of architecture, design and neighborhoods, walked to various spots in and around Mattapan Square, including corner stores, community gardens, and the proposed Mattapan Neponset River Greenway.
The tour started in the parking lot of the Church of the Holy Spirit on River Street, where the Mattapan Food and Fitness Coalition runs a weekly Saturday morning farmers market from mid-July to mid- October. The market offers variety of fresh, affordable, organic fruits and vegetables from local farms. Farmers accept EBT/SNAP (food stamps), WIC and Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Coupons. This year, the market will also offer fresh fish from Red’s Best Seafood, an innovative wholesale seafood and distribution company that is selling at a number of Boston farmers markets this year.
From the parking lot, the groups strolled down River Street to the modestly named “World’s Best Food & Vegetarian” market on River Street, one of four corner stores that MFFC is working with to help them offer healthier options, including better quality fruits and vegetables at a reasonable price.
In addition to popular fruits like apples, oranges, mangos and bananas, this tiny store carries a large inventory of canned and dried beans and rice, as well as a good assortment of Worthington-brand faux meat products. I believe this is the only place in the Boston area that stocks these canned and frozen vegetarian convenience foods.
Putting fresh produce in a corner store is one thing – encouraging residents to buy it is another. MFFC is working with the stores to help them find the best ways to merchandise the healthy foods. The fruits have done better since the owners moved them up to the front for greater visibility.
We walked back up River Street to Edgewater Drive, a street which runs parallel to the Neponset River. You can’t see the river from the road, because there’s a giant stone wall (built by the WPA) blocking it off. As Vivien Morris, MFFC Chairperson and one of our tour guides pointed out, there are very few places along the road where the community can access the river.
MFFC is working with the Mass. Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) and a variety of groups on a proposed plan for a Neponset River Trail that would run between Mattapan Square and Central Avenue in Hyde Park. There’s a commuter rail line that runs from Hyde Park into downtown Boston right through several communities including Mattapan without stopping; stations are being built along this route within Boston and residents are designing green spaces along the routes.
Morris also led us to the Kennedy Playground Community Garden, a few steps down the road. The garden offers 17 community plots, which cost only $3 a year to rent, well below the $50/year fee in Jamaica Plain. They’ve also set up a waist-high raised bed for people with disabilities, and planted a community plot where anyone can come to harvest the food.
Just down Edgewater Drive is City Natives, a community garden run by Boston Natural Areas Network, where I recently attended a perennial swap. City Natives, which is primarily volunteer run, donates the food they grow to local food banks, teaches gardening classes, and runs community events.
I left the tour feeling inspired about the kind of change that is possible when people apply creativity and hard work to their vision. The key to the Mattapan Food and Fitness Coalition’s success is that it is bringing members of their ethnically and culturally diverse community together to strengthen their neighborhood. It’s a lesson that the rest of Boston (and the world) could well stand to learn.
Photos by Holden Pierre from the Mattapan Food and Fitness Coalition Vigorous Youth