Wholesome Wave

Founder Michel Nischan on why farmers' markets matter

Dressing Room in Westport, CT, is the kind of casually tony restaurant where the menu details the provenance of the heirloom grains used in the black-barley risotto. In other words, it's just the kind of feel-good, sustainably minded place we love.

It is also, according to chef-owner Michel Nischan, perfectly besides the point when it comes to the real issue of transforming the way all Americans eat.

In 2007, Nischan founded Wholesome Wave, a nonprofit organization with the goal of getting everyone access to affordable, healthy fruits and vegetables. He's blunt about the disconnect between culinary trendiness and real change: "It's not that affluent people lack awareness that there are poor people. They lack awareness of how the purchasing power of the poor can become a powerful force for change."

"If people who live on federal benefits could significantly change their purchasing choices," Nischan adds, "they could help achieve a changed food system faster than if every white-tablecloth restaurant in America went farm-to-table tomorrow."

Nischan's vision is compellingly simple (even if realizing it might not be): By lowering the price of quality produce, the poor will buy and cook with it, farmers will flourish, and we all benefit from lower food costs.

To enourage people who don't subscribe to glossy food magazines to get out and shop, for instance, Wholesome Wave's Double Value Coupon Program doubles the spending power of federal benefits at participating farmers' markets. The power of these markets is not only access to unprocessed food but useful, free cooking and nutrition advice as well.

To those who'd suggests that farmers' markets are elitist, Nischan offers this take-down: "The only reason why food at farmers' markets seems expensive is that they're the only places in the country right now where you're actually paying the true retail prices for food. The seemingly higher price allows the farmer to grow his food and keep the lights turned on. It's not elite; it's just real."

Ready to get real? You can contact Wholesome Wave to donate time, money or services.

Ready to do some good without even trying? For a limited time, simply click "Make It Happen" and Wholesome Wave will get a pound of fresh produce into the hands of someone in need.