New Way to Pay for Fresh Food: By Rx

By Corby Kummer
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.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2010/08/new-way-to-pay-for-fresh-food-by-rx/61432/