In addition to the DVCP, which is currently in 26 states, Wholesome Wave oversees two other programs. For the Fruits and Vegetables Prescription Program (FVRx), a doctor writes a “prescription” for a person at risk of diet related diseases such as diabetes to redeem for locally grown produce valued at $1 per day, per family member; the participants redeem the prescription at participating farmers markets at least every two weeks for 4 to 6 months. In the past two years, the results from the studies, although not controlled, have been significant, with 38.1 percent of participants dropping BMI in 2011, and 37.8 percent of child participants decreasing BMI in 2012. “It’s pretty remarkable that we had two years in a row with almost identical drops in BMI in populations that were expected to raise BMI. We can make a direct correlation between increased consumption of fruits and vegetables and health,” says Nischan.
The third program, Healthy Food Commerce Investments, aims to channel funding to health-minded, mission-driven businesses and organizations that need it the most. “The food system right now is robotized and the goal of highly processed food companies is to return profit for their shareholders by keeping labor costs as low as possible,” explains Nischan. “What we would like to see is money and tax dollars that are already in the system going to smaller businesses that could actually get healthier foods into corner stores, grade-school cafeterias, and hospitals, to those who are really changing the food system.” A good example of an HFCI project is Red’s Best in Boston, which distributes seafood to five farmers markets in the city at a price that gives the fishermen a fair wage. It’s all part of Wholesome Wave’s mission of targeting existing monies so “that they have greater effects,” says Nischan.
And demonstrably so: The farmers markets in Illinois, including the 61st Street Farmers Market in the Woodlawn section of Chicago, have seen marked increase in sales due to the DVCP and LINK Up programs. In 2012, the markets generated $155,604 in SNAP and $71,396 in DVCP sales, totaling $227,000 spent on locally grown farm fresh foods. "LINK Up Illinois markets generate the great majority of farmers markets in our state," explains Spreen.
In its fifth year, the 61st Street Farmers Market is going strong, but other challenges lie ahead for Spreen, such as expanding the LINK Up Illinois program and working with Wholesome Wave to figure out next steps. She is exhausted but undeterred. “I’ve realized that with the particular traits I have, I can do quite a bit to change the way things work in my world. Helping my neighbors, my fellow-Chicagoans and Illinoisans gain access to affordable, healthy food is something I can do,” she says.