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Double Value Coupons: Promoting fresh local food

Posted in Models by Kate Archdeacon on June 15th, 2010

Source: Sustainable Cities Collective


Image: Wholesome Wave © David Keh

From “Chef to the rich, advocate for the poor” by Marc Gunther:

Can you think of a simple idea that would fight obesity, support local farmers and help the poor, all at once?

Michel Nischan and Gus Schumacher did. Nischan is an award-winning chef, cookbook author and restaurant owner.  Schumacher is a longtime government official who worked for the state of Massachusetts, the World Bank and as Under Secretary for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) during the Clinton years.

Their idea? Subsidize poor people who get food stamps or benefits under the federal WIC (Women, Infants, Children) program so that their grocery dollars go twice as far at farmers’ market.  Several years ago, to make it happen, they started the Wholesome Wave Foundation with the help of some well-connected friends.  Wholesome Wave began working with about a dozen farm markets in Connecticut, Massachusetts and California in 2008. This year, Nischan says, the program, called Nourishing Neighborhoods, expects to operate at 160 markets in 18 states and Washington, D.C.

Among other things, Wholesome Wave is disproving the notion that poor people either don’t care or don’t know enough to buy healthy food. “The fear that some people had was that we would go into these communities, and it wouldn’t work,” Nischan said. “There was a wide assumption that people in poor communities didn’t know what to do with fresh food.”  Instead, he said: “Everywhere we go, people flood the farmers’ markets and buy fresh fruits and vegetables. They actually buy with a vengeance.”

They do so because of an incentive: Double Value Coupons, which double the value of food stamps (which are now known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP) when used at participating markets.  Said Nischan: “Use your food stamps for anything you want, but if you choose locally grown fruits and vegetables, we’ll double your money.”

Nischan doesn’t think that putting more supermarkets in low-income communities will do much to solve the obesity crisis. Supermarkets historically failed in poor neighborhoods because people didn’t have enough money to spend. Even now, when poor people travel to distant supermarkets to shop, they typically don’t buy fruits and vegetables; they buy cheaper sources of calories like Minute Rice and Hamburger Helper. The obesity problem, in other words, is partly an income problem; the average SNAP benefit per person is just $3 a day, he said.

To steer more food stamp dollars to farm markets, Nischan wants to enlist natural allies–American farmers who grow fruits and vegetables and who, for the most part, get little help from farm subsidies that flow to those who grow corn, soy, cotton, rice and wheat.

“Our goal is policy change,” Nischan said. “Our target is the next farm bill.”

Read the full article by Marc Gunther.

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