Chef Michel Nischan's Wholesome Wave initiative has been deeply rooted in the farming community since its inception in 2007, nurturing relationships between communities in need, and growers in search of local customers.
Now, Nischan tells Eatocracy, Wholesome Wave is partnering with New Orleans-based non-profit organization MarketUmbrella to offer food buying support, via a new program called MarinersMatch, to Gulf fishing families affected by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
The spill, which released over 200 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico from April 20th through its final sealing-off on September 19th, has had a tremendous economic impact upon the thousands of commercial fishermen, crabbers, oystermen and shrimpers who have long made their living from the Gulf waters. While areas remained unaffected, and BP has provided cleanup assistance jobs to some displaced workers, much of the community remains without a steady source of income.
MarinersMatch mimics Wholesome Wave's signature Double Value Coupon Program, which allows recipients of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Electronic Benefit Transfer (SNAP EBT) or food stamps to receive double benefits when shopping at any of 160 participating farmers markets in 20 states around the nation. In this partnership with MarketUmbrella, a New Orleans-based organization devoted to growing the field of public markets for public good, the presentation of a valid fishing license and a photo ID will entitle the bearer to $40 worth of farmers market tokens for each purchase of food from local farmers along the New Orleans and Mississippi Gulf Coasts, while supplies last.
Additionally, MarinersMatch is partnering with local cultural institutions like the Audubon Zoo, the Aquarium and Insectarium, the Louisiana Children’s Museum, the National World War II Museum, the New Orleans Museum of Art, the Southern Food and Beverage Museum and others to provide passes and special offers to fishermen and their families. "These people are sorely and desperately in need of a break," says Nischan. "Going to these places will get them out of the environment that reminds them of all the damage."
Mississippi’s Commissioner of Agriculture and Commerce, Lester Spell, wrote in a press release, "The timely assistance and support to the local fishermen and their families provided by these organizations is greatly appreciated. By allowing fishing families affected by this disaster to access Mississippi farmers’ markets for fresh, local fruits and vegetables in this time of need will be most helpful towards their recovery."
Chef Nischan, who is owner and founder of Dressing Room restaurant, author of several cookbooks and host of PBS TV series Victory Garden, started Wholesome Wave when he became increasingly frustrated realizing that "white tablecloth" restaurants, including his own, were just a small piece of the local food pie. "Even if we bought locally, it wouldn't make a blip," he tells Eatocracy. "We're feeding rich people who can afford it. Poor people are dying, because they can't afford good food. The food they're eating is killing them, and the benefits they're currently getting won't even cover bus fare to the farmers market."
Encouraged by his business partner, the late actor Paul Newman, who told him, "Stop talking, start doing!" Nischan teamed up with Gus Schumacher, who during his two terms as USDA Under Secretary of Agriculture successfully established the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) and Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Programs (FMNP). They launched the Double Value Coupon program at 12 farmers markets in 2008 and continue to work with municipal, state and federal officials to leverage change in funding and policy as well as raising private funds and working with non-profits to keep the doubling program viable.
"Food is power," says Nischan. "We're hoping this will turn the tide."