Mattapan Food and Fitness Coalition Gets One of the City's Most Diverse Neighborhoods Revved Up for Exercise

Mattapan Food and Fitness Coalition (MFFC) already has a track record when it comes to exercise and nutrition in one of Boston’s most historic, but in some ways challenged, neighborhoods.

 

Launched in 2006, the cooperative’s original mission was to improve the nutrition scene in Mattapan, which has more than 36,000 residents—and, at the time, only a single grocery store. The neighborhood also had many fast-food outlets. MFFC’s response? “We started our farmers market,” says founder and chairperson Vivien Morris, “to bring fresh fruit and vegetables to Mattapan.” 

 

The market continues to thrive today—and it was only the beginning. MFFC has branched out into several other areas of diet and fitness, including several programs for youth. At the request of Mattapan teens, a program dubbed Vigorous Youth was inaugurated ten years ago. Vigorous Youth runs its own farm stand, separate from the farmers market, and it too is highly successful.

 

Now, a grant from Boston Children’s Collaboration for Community Health will help fund MFFC’s Healthy Mattapan Campaign, which will engage Mattapan around healthy food options, nutrition education and moving and walking activities. The campaign aims to increase residents’ healthy food consumption by promoting the use of community gardens, as well as the farmers market and farm stand. MFFC also has big plans to increase Mattapan’s regular physical activity by promoting seasonal activity programs, in particular walking and bicycling.

 

Taking aim at disease

Mattapan is culturally diverse; about half its residents are first-generation immigrants, and 90% are people of color. A low-income neighborhood, it faces typical health problems, many associated with poor diet and a lack of exercise. “Obesity, heart disease, Type 2 Diabetes… they’re all really common in our community,” says Morris. In a recent study, the Boston Public Health Commission found Mattapan has the city’s highest obesity rate, also noting that only 18% of high-school students in vulnerable Boston neighborhoods get the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables in their diets.

 

But MFFC, including the many 13- to 18-year-olds who participate, are doing something about that. Morris notes that Mattapan’s youth “are deeply engaged in everything we do.” Indeed, it was high school students who decided, early on, to promote bicycling as a fitness activity. 

 

That focus has grown impressively. This year, MFFC will host the ninth annual Mattapan on Wheels, which Morris says is the largest biking event in New England for people of color (though all are welcome, of course). Last year, 150 participants of all ages rode in one of three groupings: the family ride, the intermediate ride and the advanced ride. The idea is to remind residents that bicycling is a fun, accessible, low-impact form of exercise.

 

Using Collaboration for Community Health funds, Morris says, “there will be more training on bike safety and bike-related education events” throughout 2019. Teens are also playing a key role in an innovative nutrition program to work with Mattapan restaurants—such as local favorite Right Taste, which serves Jamaican cuisine—to make their menus and recipes healthier, yet still authentic. “We went to Right Taste because they regularly buy from our farmers market,” says Morris, “so we knew they wanted the highest quality and the local connection.” MFFC is lining up several other restaurants to participate.

 

And thanks in part to Boston Children’s funding, MFFC plans to launch cooking demos and classes next year. Morris and her teen assistants are busily identifying partners and locations in cooperation with the Boston Organization of Nutritionists and Dieticians of Color, or BOND.

 

With enthusiasm and a commitment to hard work, MFFC is helping to raise future leaders in community and health.