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Chefs Make Change: Michel Nischan for Wholesome Wave

After partnering with legendary philanthropist Paul Newman on The Dressing Room restaurant in Connecticut, chef Michel Nischan embarked on his own mission to do good. His organization Wholesome Wave works to make locally grown produce more accessible and affordable for people in seriously underserved urban and rural communities.

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Wholesome Wave aims to make locally grown vegetables and fruit more accessible and affordable for people in seriously underserved urban and rural communities. One of its programs doubles the value of SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) coupons—a.k.a., food stamps—at farmers’ markets. In turn, the increased market business also supports small-scale farmers. wholesomewave.org.

The Challenge “In the communities where we work, a family of four often has $2 to spend on dinner. A four-pack of Cup O’ Noodles is $1.50. A head of broccoli is $2. So what do you put in front of your family?”

Success Story “We’ve gone into ‘food deserts’—neighborhoods where stores don’t carry fresh produce— and created viable farmers’ markets. We’ve found that once people begin shopping at farmers’ markets, because we’ve added incentives to their SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits, they continue even when the incentives run out.”

Helping Farmers “We did a survey of 2,000 SNAP recipients and 1,700 farmers. We studied who the farmers were—48 percent were women. The average age was 45, almost 15 years younger than average. About 10 percent of the farmers saw enough of an increase in their business because of SNAP sales that they were able to add hoop houses or extend production. That’s because SNAP recipients show up in force at farmers’ markets, even at the end of the season or in the rain.”

What’s Next “Our latest initiative is our fruit and vegetable ‘prescription’ program, supported with private funds. Doctors in underserved communities can give an entire at-risk family a farmers’ market voucher that will allow them to increase their fresh-produce consumption by one to two servings a day.”

His Beet Cake with Bourbon Sauce Recipe for F&W “My dad was from Kentucky, so we’ve always appreciated bourbon and kept it on hand. Beets and bourbon love each other!”

Video Video: Michel Nischan in the Kitchen

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