Brookwood Community Farm has combined forces with the Mattapan Food and Fitness Coalition (MFFC) in securing a grant to run this series. The goals are simple ̶ to interest teens in cooking, connect them to elders in the community, to help celebrate and preserve traditions, and to nudge them towards a diet less racked with processed foods.
Creating more and more community allotments such as garden plots is one way our city is trying to improve their diet; people can grow their own produce or provide labor in a community garden in exchange for a share of produce. In addition, SNAP dollars, formerly known as food stamps, can be traded in for bounty bucks, monetary benefits of the Boston Bounty Bucks program that allow SNAP recipients to double their purchasing power through a dollar-for-dollar matching incentive when buying produce from farmers' markets or CSA shares. This program has demonstrated so much success that the USDA is working to expand the program across other cities in Massachusetts.
I asked Vivien how so many elders in Mattapan seem to stay close to their families, often living with them, and how this must be good for them. “I can’t speak from data, but cultural cohesion is key for elders and it is alive and well in urban areas like Mattapan. There is a wealth of cultural activities in Mattapan and in their own homes ̶ a multi-generational home is common." But there are economic stressors like wage inequity that require elders to take care of their grandchildren rather than enjoy leisure time during their retirement years because either or both parents cannot make ends meet. It might allow elderly residents to spend more quality time with their family members, but it is out of necessity. Also, dietary issues for the elderly are more difficult to address than a child’s because they are less mobile, whereas children generally have their dietary needs met through school meal options. Vivien helps people take advantage of the Bounty Bucks program, using her influence at the Boston Public Health Commission in urging friends and neighbors to join local community gardens.
Meanwhile, Betty is cutting a cucumber like I’ve never seen. She has peeled it and is holding it upright. Then she hacks at it in her hand with a small knife until it's finely chopped, with little pieces falling into a bowl. All the teens are intrigued. She has also been boiling the green bananas and breadfruit for almost an hour. We eat these with a compote made from cucumber, tomatoes, onion, salt cod, parsley, peppers, olive oil, and lemon. The green bananas are to die for, and although the breadfruit may not be tops on my list, it is still excellent with the compote.