How Wholesome Wave Georgia Is Giving More Atlantans Access to Healthy, Fresh Foods

Farmers MarketBase image: Dan Bruell

Ah, the farmers market… the Saturday morning ritual that brings together early-risers, sipping coffee while perusing a bounty of fresh, bright produce, and friendly farmers, carefully placing the weighed selections into reusable grocery bags (that is, if you remembered to bring them this time). Sure, it seems idyllic. But if you’re on a tight food budget, it could also look expensive, even intimidating. Wholesome Wave Georgia is working change that perception by improving access to nourishing, locally grown food for our state’s SNAP recipients — all while supporting the farmers. WellATL had to hear more, so we caught up with WWG’s Executive Director Sara Berney for this week’s Friday Five.


Executive Director Sara Berney

How did this whole thing get started? 

Wholesome Wave Georgia was founded in 2009 by Judith Winfrey, Gina Hopkins, Kate Barney, and Jonathan Tescher, all local leaders in the good food movement. Gina had met Michel Nischan, the founder of Wholesome Wave national, through Food and Wine magazine’s Grow for Good Campaign and learned about the double SNAP (aka Food Stamps) program that Michel started in 2008. Our program started small, partnering with three Georgia farmers markets and doubling $3,000 worth of healthy food for Georgia SNAP recipients, but it caught on pretty quickly. Five years later, we are working with nearly 25 Georgia farmers markets and have provided nearly $1 million worth of fresh food to underserved Georgians. What is especially exciting is that in addition to making healthy, Georgia-grown food more affordable, we are also supporting local farmers and our local food economy. The $1 million of healthy food that Wholesome Wave Georgia has helped get out to SNAP recipients, is also $1 million that went to our Georgia farmers and into our local food system.

Y’all literally double SNAP dollars at your partner markets. Where does the funding come from?

WWG TokensWe sure do! Every SNAP dollar spent at a Wholesome Wave Georgia partner farmers market becomes $2 for the shopper and the farmer. The funding comes from a variety of sources, including individual donations, private foundations and grants, fundraising events, and most importantly, local community members from the partner market communities.

To participate in the Wholesome Wave Georgia program, farmers markets are required to contribute 40 percent of the total incentives that they distribute each year. If, for example, the Peachtree Road Farmers market distributes $10,000 in Wholesome Wave Georgia incentives (aka doubled SNAP dollars), the farmers market is required to contribute $4,000 towards that total amount. Wholesome Wave Georgia covers the remaining $6,000. This encourages the market to talk to community members about the program, host fundraising events at the market, and engage customers in our mission to make healthy food more accessible and support local farmers.

About a third of our annual budget comes from our September fundraising event, the Southern Chefs Potluck, where guests dine family-style with some of the South’s favorite chefs, each of whom contributes a side dish, a dessert, and pickles. Those dishes are complemented by the main dish, which is provided each year by White Oak Pastures and Jim N’ Nicks Bar-B-Q. Save the date for 2015: Sunday, September, 13!

SNAP recipients and local farmers both benefit from WWG. That’s something everyone can feel good about. Tell us a success story so we can share in the warm fuzzies.

WWG_Forsyth Farmers MarketEvery fall, the number of farmers market customers inevitably drops because of the colder weather and darker evenings. At the East Atlanta Village Farmers Markets, one of the farmers explained that while his sales this fall have definitely been lower, the customers who return each week, regardless of the cold weather and occasional rain, are SNAP customers who participate in the Wholesome Wave Georgia program. The East Point Farmers Market had a similar story — on several occasions, the SNAP sales exceeded the credit, debit, and cash sales!

We’re entering the colder months, which means many seasonal farmers markets are winding down. Give us the scoop on where Atlantans can find locally grown produce year round.

Truly Living Well (Wednesdays and Fridays), Our Community Farmers Market Peachtree City (Saturdays), and Decatur Farmers Market (Wednesdays and Saturdays) are all located in the metro area and are all open year-round! Truly Living Well offers a CSA that SNAP recipients can put their doubled SNAP dollars towards! Peachtree Road, East Point, East Atlanta Village, and Grant Park Farmers Markets are all open through December and re-open in the spring.

Wholesome Wave Georgia has grown year over year. What’s on the plate for 2015?

WWGThere’s a lot in store for 2015! We are bringing on TEN new partner farmers markets, which will bring the number of partners that we work with up to 35 in Georgia! We recently hired a full-time community outreach coordinator, who will be working closely with those markets to increase the knowledge of and participation in the program. Our goal is to make the program more sustainable and increase participation by identifying local community organizations that each market can partner with to spread the word and make it more accessible. One example of this in action is our transportation initiative. We’ll work with a sub-set of our partner markets to identify available modes of transport to the market, such as community center buses, and then help facilitate public transport to the market from low-income neighborhoods. Another example is identifying educators and organizations in each community that the market can partner with to educate Wholesome Wave Georgia program participants about the importance of eating healthy, locally grown food.

Keep up with the good work of Wholesome Wave Georgia on Facebook and Twitter.