A group of teens in Dorchester have persuaded two-thirds of the stores in Codman Square to sign an unofficial agreement to display healthy foods at the front of their stores instead of the tobacco and junk food usually found there.
To improve the quality of food bought in Codman Square, the BOLD Teens (Breath of Life Dorchester), began a campaign called “Healthy on the Block” eight years ago. The current phase of the campaign focuses on the 15 corner stores in Codman Square selling food products.
At the Codman Square Neighborhood Council meeting in March, the group announced four stores signed a “memorandum of understanding” with the BOLD Teens which asked them to replace the sugary drinks and snacks in the front of stores with healthier options for a six-month test period. A green “Healthy on the Block” sign will mark participating stores.
At the council’s April meeting, the BOLD Teens presented that they had seven more stores signed on to the experiment, meaning 73 percent of the stores in Codman Square committed to testing a healthier store layout.
Store manager of the America’s Food Basket on Washington Street Gonzalo Diaz has signed the referendum and says the building’s owner will need to make the necessary changes in layout this spring. The fruits and vegetables at America’s Food Basket already line the store near the entrance and exits but Gonzalo says the BOLD Teens have convinced him to move soda and candy away from the front end, temporarily at least. Diaz says the neighborhood should make healthier choices and the BOLD Teens are making good progress.
“I’m glad they’re doing it because someone needs to show people about food,” Diaz says.
The Rev. Bill Loesch remembers the BOLD Teens first campaign to stop pharmacies from selling tobacco. By meeting with city and state representatives the group helped Boston become the second city in the country to ban tobacco products from drug stores.
The methods used to meet with success in 1997 were similar to the strategy employed by the teens today.
Loesch says the “Healthy on the Block” signs will allow people in the neighborhood to see what they’re really buying, just as their informational campaign to reduce cigarette smoking used signs and labels.
“We came up with our own labels that listed eight ingredients found in tobacco to allow people to see the ingredients,” Loesch says.
Codman Square sits in a predominantly low income area of Dorchester, but it is home to a number of grass roots organizations devoted to improving the district.
Nutrition has been a focus of many organizations like the BOLD Teens. Candice Gartley, of the Codman Square Health Center says while the neighborhood isn’t classified as a “food desert” by the United States Department of Agriculture, an area in which residents do not have access to healthy food, “it is food insecure, and most of the people who live here don’t do their shopping here.”
This means that while there may be abundant grocery stores in Codman Square, many of its residents can’t afford the healthy products sold there and instead turn to cheaper, less nutritious alternatives. Or, residents do their shopping in other neighborhoods, raising transportation costs and taking revenue from a neighborhood that could use the financial support.
Current BOLD Teens member Krishana Abrahim says the campaign has been a success so far, but some stores show just how unhealthy the food situation in Dorchester is. “One store (told us) ‘we don’t have produce’ but they were stocked with tobacco and lottery tickets.” Abrahim, a senior at Boston Latin High School says items like “coffee from 2007, baby food that was three years old” showed her some stores may never change their business practices.
That doesn’t mean Abrahim hasn’t learned from the process. She says her two years with the BOLD Teens have showed Abrahim “what a great community Codman Square is.”
In addition to asking stores to cooperate with their nutritional goals, the BOLD Teens have been helping to coordinate the Codman Square Farmers Market since it began in 2008. Abrahim and the other members have learned about agriculture and organic guidelines from their partners at Silverbrook Farms. Most importantly to Abrahim, the farmers market has taught her about marketing and public health practices. A member of UMass Boston class of 2017, Abrahim says she plans on receiving a master’s degree in public health.