Increasing Access to Fruit & Veg: Learning from Wholesome Wave

Rob Davidson
22nd December, 2016

Along with participants from Nourish, Community Food Health Scotland, Pilton Community Health, Farmers and other interested parties I was invited to join a group of food sovereignty activists at the Quaker Meeting House in Edinburgh to hear, first hand, the experiences of Gus Schumacher and The Wholesome Wave foundation as they set up a voucher based scheme to subsidise the purchase of fruit and veg across the US.

“Wholesome Wave works across the United States, connecting farmers with low-income communities. It believes poverty should never be an obstacle to eating fresh produce and coordinates a range of non-stigmatising food access programmes, including fruit and veg prescriptions and subsidised farmers’ markets.

Schumacher visited Scotland in 2012 to talk about Wholesome Wave’s work. The number of households experiencing food insecurity, people and communities affected by diet-related diseases, and food producers struggling to make ends meet continue to cause concern in Scotland. Communities, local authorities and the Scottish Government are working on crosscutting and dignified responses to these compounding challenges.

Increasing access to fruit and vegetables remains a priority for the Scottish Government and is supported through schemes such as Healthy Start vouchers and free school meals provision, as well as by the growing community food sector.” -

The aim of the afternoon was to digest Gus’s anecdotes and statistics and discuss and assess whether or not we should have a scheme to subsidise fruit and veg sales in Scotland for people in poverty and with health conditions such as diabetes and obesity.

After a brief introduction to the topic from Olga Bloemen the podium was handed over to Gus Schumacher. His career history includes a prominent position in the USDA during Bill Clinton’s presidency. With practical experience in farming and a founding role in Wholesome Wave, Gus has a wealth of experience and knowledge in the subject of food production and food poverty. He inspired and impressed us with a range of statistics which justified the creation of the wholesome wave voucher scheme and it’s efficacy. One fact that really amazed me was, while there had been a horrendous 1500 amputations in the states between 2000 and 2010 as a result of war, there were 73000 amputations in the states as result of diabetes in in 2010 alone! That surely is a sign that something as simple as subsidising fruit and veg purchases would be a good idea in terms of saving money for our health service alone!

Some Wholesome Wave stats:

  • We played a key role in triggering the first national, federally funded nutrition incentive program in history (FINI), resulting in $100 Million in the 2014 Farm Bill for nutrition incentives nationally.
  • We’re growing our network of 700+ farmers markets and retailers in 46 states and counting.
  • Today, hundreds of thousands of low-income Americans are eating healthier because of our programs…and we’re working hard to push that number to a million tomorrow!
  • In scaling innovative programs, we inspire like-minded organizations to join the fight against food insecurity.

Gus also introduced ‘Rose Vouchers for fruit and Veg’ which is a small but similar scheme set up in London and possibly a good example of the kind of thing we could be doing in Scotland.

After Gus’s introductory chat we organised ourselves into groups to discuss what we have done what we are doing now, and what we can do in the future to increase access to fruit and veg for those who need it most.

In my discussion group we had Gus’s wife, Susan who had further tales from Wholesome Wave (a lot has been done there!), some representatives from Nourish, Wendy from Coupar Angus who manages a food sovereignty project there and was telling us how difficult it is to buy fresh produce in her area even though it is surrounded by fruit and veg growers. We also had a young man called Andrew Forbes who is an architect working on modular community gardens to utilise the 987 derelict spaces in Glasgow. A very inspiring bunch! The passion that these people had and their desire for urgent change in the food system was palpable. The energy in this event was rare and of the kind created by genuine activism, something we need to see more of in this political age? Feedback from the other groups in the room about their discussions proved to be just as inspiring with some basic elements of a Veg Voucher scheme being proposed by many. Each delegate keen to play a part or influence their organisations to do something.

What am I going to do? I’m setting up a meeting, with my Common Good Food cap worn jauntily to the side,  between Cyrenians (the organisation I’m lucky to work for) and Nourish to figure out if we can work together on kickstarting a voucher scheme in Edinburgh which could possibly be rolled out across Scotland. The initial meeting will be exploratory and tentative but I feel there is already good will on both sides and a real interest in getting such a scheme working.

I think the most important thing to say here is – What can you do to increase access to fruit and veg in your community? It doesn’t have to be as grand as a starting a market with a voucher scheme. Perhaps start a community garden? Cook a healthy meal for someone vulnerable in your community? Plant some salad or a fruit tree in your local nursery school? Hold a party at your allotment site? Start a fruit and veg coop by sourcing food from local farmers and selling it at cost in a community venue? There’s so much that can be done. Get out and get active!