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Fairfielder Brings Healthy Eating to Those in Need

Eating healthy can be expensive, as anyone who takes a tour through Whole Foods can attest. That’s one reason why nearly a third of kids ages 2 to 4 from low-income families in the country are overweight or obese, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But Fairfield’s Michel Nischan wants to change that.

Nischan, owner and chef at Westport’s Meeting Room, founded Wholesome Wave in 2007. The national nonprofit organization based in Bridgeport is dedicated to helping low-income families in inner cities buy farm-fresh fruits and vegetables, and at a better value.

“If people’s incomes are a little tight, then their access to nutritional food becomes less,” said Julie Thorpe, Wholesome Wave’s director of development. “So we work with incentive programs to be able to increase that access.”

Wholesome Wave has two main focuses: bringing farmers' markets to urban areas, and granting discounts to families who need the most help. Nischan’s group has been establishing “Healthy Food Hubs,” in what they call "urban food deserts:" inner-city areas where fast-food restaurants and convenience stores outnumber grocery stores and farm stands.

For example, in 2009 Wholesome Wave worked with Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch to bring a farmers' market to Connecticut’s largest city. Now each summer the city’s Health Department hosts Park City Harvest, which brings food from local growers markets across Bridgeport.

“The self-esteem that these families experience when they can actually go and buy a ripe peach for their children, it’s pretty cool to watch that,” Nischan said.

But Wholesome Wave also makes sure low-income families can afford the farm-fresh fruit once it arrives in their city. The organization makes arrangements with farmers' markets to offer a Double Value Coupon Program. Those farmers' markets agree to double the value of food stamps used at their stands.

Wholesome Wave also works with doctors to assign fruit and vegetable “prescriptions” to low-income people who suffer from nutrition-related diseases such as diabetes or obesity. Those prescriptions act as coupons that the families can exchange for fresh foods at participating farmers' markets.

As Nischan told CNN in an interview about the program, “When you provide the access and the resources both, miracles happen.”

Know about people doing great things in Fairfield? Send information and photos to gcanuel@thedailyfairfield.com .

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