'Food, Inc.' Pioneer Award Winner: Wholesome Wave

This anti-hunger group is doubling food-assistance dollars for hungry Americans who shop at farmers markets.

(Photo by Lauren Wade)

Nov 24, 2013· 1 MIN READ
Willy Blackmore is TakePart’s Food editor.

Michel Nischan’s goal for his nonprofit, Wholesome Wave, is for it to eventually disappear.

“If we’re the nonprofit that goes away, we can high-five each other, because we created change,” he says. Wholesome Wave's mission—providing healthier food choices in underserved communities by increasing affordability and access—has netted it our Food, Inc. Pioneer Award.

The Connecticut-based outfit’s initial project provides matching funds for food stamp recipients who shop at farmers markets. Come armed with $20 worth of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program bucks, and you can leave with $40 worth of fresh fruits and vegetables. And if and when the United States Congress manages to pass a farm bill, anywhere between $25 million and $100 million of federal funds, backed by a 50 percent private match, will go toward turning $1 worth of green beans or apples into $2 for the 47 million Americans who depend on food aid.

Nischan hopes that next time the farm bill is up for renewal, a few billion federal dollars, with no match, will permanently be devoted to a doubling program—eliminating the need for Wholsesome Wave to administer the initiative. “Then we can say, ‘We’ve done our jobs; let’s find something else to fix,’ ” Nischan says.

Indeed, Wholesome Wave is already tackling other problems related to the food system. The nonprofit tracks analytics on the doubling initiative, is developing a program that would integrate doctor-issued prescriptions for healthy foods into traditional health care, and maintains an investment fund to finance entrepreneurs looking to start triple-bottom-line businesses in the food space.

Despite all this impressive work, which takes Wholesome Wave from Capitol Hill to impoverished neighborhoods to public hospitals and clinics, Nischan says the approach is always to promote the idea—the program—rather than the brand.

“The model wasn’t how do we go in and hang the Wholesome Wave shingle and do the Wholesome Wave program,” he says, addressing the doubling program, “because we know in communities of poverty there’s a lot of resistance to well-meaning white people coming in with their program saying, ‘We’re going to save you, because we care.’ ”

He’d like the prescription program to become a permanent federal program under the Affordable Care Act, thereby eliminating that aspect of the nonprofit's work as well.

Let’s just hope Nischan isn’t too successful at making Wholesome Wave irrelevant.