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Award-winning chefs and advocates for locally grown food are putting pressure on Capitol Hill to support legislation that would provide incentives for food stamp recipients to buy fresh produce.
Studies show that many families on government assistance are likely to have a diet lacking in adequate fruits and vegetables. Many are simply too expensive. The result is a population at risk for chronic illness and obesity.
Wholesome Wave, an advocacy group dedicated to making locally-grown produce available to everyone, is in Washington this week as Congress begins debate on nutrition incentives in the farm bill.
Former Undersecretary of Agriculture Gus Schumacher is the senior vice president of Wholesome Wave. Schumacher helped create the group in response to an encounter he had years ago as a farmer's market vendor in Boston.
"There was a woman in the gutter picking up pears from a box of pears that I had just dropped," Schumacher says. "So I asked, 'Why are you picking up my brother's pears out of the gutter?' And she said, 'I'm on food stamps, and I can't afford to buy fruit for my children.' That's wrong."
Schumacher gave the woman the pears, and years later helped create Wholesome Wave Fruits and Vegetables Prescription program. It's a simply program: a participating doctor with a diet-deficient patient writes a prescription that can be redeemed for produce at a participating farmer s market.
"Fifty-two percent of the families that took those to the market showed some improvement in their basic body mass index, and that means that their health improved. That's pretty impressive," Schumacher says.
Schumacher says profits for many of the 400 farmer's markets in the program, including those in the District, has gone up 27 percent in the past year.