'Healthy on the Block' coming to Mattapan

Kenneth J. Cooper | 4/20/2011, 12:02 a.m.

To help address the short supply of fresh fruit and vegetables, the Mattapan coalition launched a farmer’s market in Mattapan Square in 2007. But that market operates only from July to October — and only on Saturdays.

Asked why most corner stores owners in Mattapan declined to join “Healthy on the Block,” Cato-Louis said: “The first thing they say is, ‘People don’t buy produce here. There’s not a market for it.’ But the kind of produce they have is the kind people don’t want. It’s old.”

A survey of more than 100 Mattapan residents about food shopping, she said, found that “the vast majority of them requested fresh food and vegetables” in corner stores.

Mama Supermarket sees the initiative as a business opportunity.

One recent morning, more than 20 varieties of fruits and vegetables were on sale, some in plastic bins and others in a refrigerated cooler. The fruits included bananas, oranges, lemons, limes and mangos, while among the vegetables were potatoes, cassava, Caribbean yams and pumpkins, lettuce, tomatoes and ginger.

Asked how sales have been going, a cashier replied: “not bad,” though some citrus fruit was shriveled, a telltale sign of age. Produce prices appeared a little higher than in supermarkets. Cato-Louis said cooperative buying — if more stores join the initiative — could lower prices and also reduce losses from spoilage.

Franckle indicated that “Healthy on the Block” is in sync with a current trend that sees health disparities afflicting racial minorities as the result of not just eating habits but also conditions in the neighborhoods where they live — the lack of supermarkets and recreational facilities, and the disproportionate presence of fast-food outlets and environmental hazards, for instance.

The initiative’s goal, she said, is “making sure all residents in Boston have equal access to healthy choices.”