New Way to Pay for Fresh Food: By Rx

Codman_post.jpg

August Schumacher


Just after I mentioned Gus Schumacher and the Wholesome Wave initiative to double the face value of food stamps when used at farmers' markets, the Times has him front and center at a local farmer's market, in an article on the cover of its Business Day Section. This is a Wholesome Wave pilot called the Fruit and Veggie Prescription Program, which encourages doctors at three health clinics in Massachusetts to write "prescriptions" for fresh fruit and vegetables from farmers' markets that are worth $1 a day per member of enrolled families. Schumacher, an old friend from his days as Massachusetts commissioner of food and agriculture (he went on to more glorified federal positions) and a founding director of Wholesome Wave along with the Food Channel's Michel Nischan, now spends most of his time in several states trying to increase access to fresh food in populations and neighborhoods that can't get them.

The farmers' market where Gus was photographed is in Codman Square, Boston, just a few miles from where I live, the world capital of Jamaica Plain. I've visited it (it's next to the innovative health center where the press conference the Times reporter reported on was held, though she didn't mention it) and thought it a good example what could be called the next wave of farmers' markets—non-yuppie, that is, markets placed in "food deserts" to do the work that supermarkets don't. Sometimes, as a Boston Globe piece by Patrick Lee the same day reported, cities and health centers put farmer's markets right next to supermarkets, to show people who might not have seen truly fresh produce what it looks and feels like.

Murnane's appointment is another example of how this city has long been ahead of others
in tying food assistance specifically to fresh food.

Some non-yuppie markets draw shoppers and some don't, the Globe piece points out. Figuring out how best to draw customers is part of the charge of Boston's first director of food policy, Edith Murnane. Murnane is another longtime world-capital resident I've known from her work as director of sustainability at Community Servings, a group I work with: she helped launch a market in the parking lot, to give residents of Jamaica Plain and adjacent, low-income neighborhoods a place to buy fresh produce. We had our own customer-draw challenge, which we've helped solve by moving market day to Wednesday from Sunday. Gus wrote me over the weekend that last week the Codman Square market was packed, and sent me the picture above to prove it; the quality of the produce, he said, was "excellent, from Andy Pollock's farm in Dartmouth," the paradisal farm area on the southeastern coast of the state. And, he noted with particular satisfaction, the "McDonald's across the street was empty."

Murnane's appointment is another example of how this city has long been ahead of others in tying food assistance specifically to fresh food, as the Times piece quoted our great mayor, Thomas M. Menino, as saying (yes, he long employed my spouse, but he's still a great mayor). Menino has strongly supported fresh-food access: Boston now has 22 markets, and the next frontier is school food.

One of the health centers in the pilot is Holyoke—another center with an adjacent farmer's market, right in the center of the largely Hispanic town, that really does work, as I reported when I wrote about Nuestras Raices. The health center gives lessons in a beautiful demonstration kitchen on what to do with produce—an essential component if a non-yuppie farmer's market is to survive.

I'm glad to see Massachusetts, as usual, in the forefront. The more of these projects, all over the country, the better--and the more health centers and local governments that take note of the success of the pilots and reproduce them, the more chances that Wholesome Wave's real goal can be met: writing similar programs into the next farm bill.

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Corby Kummer's work in The Atlantic has established him as one of the most widely read, authoritative, and creative food writers in the United States. The San Francisco Examiner pronounced him "a dean among food writers in America." More

Corby Kummer's work in The Atlantic has established him as one of the most widely read, authoritative, and creative food writers in the United States. The San Francisco Examiner pronounced him "a dean among food writers in America." Julia Child once said, "I think he's a very good food writer. He really does his homework. As a reporter and a writer he takes his work very seriously." Kummer's 1990 Atlantic series about coffee was heralded by foodies and the general public alike. The response to his recommendations about coffees and coffee-makers was typical--suppliers scrambled to meet the demand. As Giorgio Deluca, co-founder of New York's epicurean grocery Dean & Deluca, says: "I can tell when Corby's pieces hit; the phone doesn't stop ringing." His book, The Joy of Coffee, based on his Atlantic series, was heralded by The New York Times as "the most definitive and engagingly written book on the subject to date." In nominating his work for a National Magazine Award (for which he became a finalist), the editors wrote: "Kummer treats food as if its preparation were something of a life sport: an activity to be pursued regularly and healthfully by knowledgeable people who demand quality." Kummer's book The Pleasures of Slow Food celebrates local artisans who raise and prepare the foods of their regions with the love and expertise that come only with generations of practice. Kummer was restaurant critic of New York Magazine in 1995 and 1996 and since 1997 has served as restaurant critic for Boston Magazine. He is also a frequent food commentator on television and radio. He was educated at Yale, immediately after which he came to The Atlantic. He is the recipient of five James Beard Journalism Awards, including the MFK Fisher Distinguished Writing Award.

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