This three-part series exploring food deserts is brought to you by GOOD with support from Naked Juice.
As an award-winning chef and restaurateur, Michel Nischan meets thousands of people every year who share his passion for supporting local and organic agriculture. But it wasn’t until his son was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes about 18 years ago that he made it his goal to change our food system by educating people about preventable diet-related diseases. To do so, Nischan founded the nonprofit organization Wholesome Wave.
With a mission to improve access to healthy, fresh, local and affordable food, the Connecticut-based Wholesome Wave strengthens relationships between local agriculture and underserved communities. With targeted programs aiming to help underserved communities in 28 states and the District of Columbia, the nonprofit works with more than 60 partners ranging from GrowNYC and The Food Project to Naked Juice and Kaiser Permanente
According to Nischan, there are many middle and lower middle class families across the United States that struggle to stay within a household budget, yet these families can still make a choice on whether to spend their money on the latest gadget or on healthy food for dinner. But for the communities that Wholesome Wave serves, many families don’t have the choice of putting healthy food on the table. “Just like every living American, people living in poverty want their children to have a better life than they did,” says Nischan. “They know they should be feeding them better, but they just can't afford to make that decision.”
With 47 million people—and growing— living in poverty, getting healthy food on the table can be a significant hardship. Wholesome Wave’s programs help reduce this hardship. It’s Double Value Coupon Program(DVCP) doubles the value of federal nutrition benefits at farmers’ markets, and its Fruit and Vegetable Prescription (FVRx) program, gives families fruit and vegetable prescriptions that are distributed by community healthcare providers and redeemed at farmers markets for fresh, locally grown produce. “When you put a preventative program in front of these families, they go at it with such gusto. It's amazing,” says Nischan.
In addition to DVCP and FVRx, Wholesome Wave has a new program known as Healthy Food Commerce Investments (HFCI). The program helps build regional food infrastructures so that local farms can distribute fresh produce to large institutions like hospitals and schools efficiently and reliably. And even though the Innovations Lab team at Wholesome Wave is always working on developing new programs, Nischan works to focus on their existing programs before expanding too quickly. “What we are doing is working on deepening and strengthening our programs in the communities that we are in,” he says.
As part of this commitment to strengthen its programs, Wholesome Wave recently teamed up with Naked Juice to bring 150,000 pounds worth of fresh produce to underserved communitiesthrough the Drink Good, Do Good program. They reached their goal in September, and to continue the momentum, have created the Drink Good, Raise Good initiative. By signing up participants can help give Wholesome Wave the means to continue bringing access to fresh fruits and vegetables to underserved communities.
“[Naked Juice has] been supportive through their philanthropy, but they've also really helped us in communities like Watts [in South L.A.], to reach out and log video of stories, especially from kids in these areas,” says Nischan. His favorite uncovered story is of a little girl whose favorite food is celery. “When you think of the face that's being painted on people who rely on food stamps and who live in poverty, about being totally hooked on Happy Meals and value meals. . .to have somebody come out and say that their favorite thing is celery, it flies in the face of all of that.”
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This is part two of a three-part series exploring food deserts in America. Read the first part here.