In 2007, James Beard award-winning chef Michel Nischan set out to make fruits and vegetables available to people who struggle to afford them by launching Wholesome Wave. The non-profit collaborates with community partners, including health centers and hospital systems, to match the value of foods stamps when spent at participating farmers markets. There are 150,000 people currently being helped, as well as thousands of involved farmers in 40 states. New events in the last year included a Chef’s Pot Luck hosted at Willie Nelson’s Texas ranch and a fundraiser held at the Yale Club in NYC honoring culinary greats like Jacques Pepin.
“Wholesome Wave is planning for significant growth, which will require increasing our ability to [boost] funding, beyond traditional means,” says Nischan. “This would not have been possible without some key team additions including Margaret Wetzler, our vice president of marketing, Gabrielle Langholtz, our communications manager and my executive assistant Terri Sheridan.” Future goals are even more ambitious—including reaching millions of people. With that in mind, Nischan hired a Chief “Xpansion” Officer, Ed Kelly, a former American Express publishing executive. “To accomplish these goals, we need to raise significant financial support. Relying solely on the philanthropic community is not sustainable, and waiting for legislation to change takes a long time. Because of my significant experience as a chef and food service professional, as well as the many friendships I am blessed with, we feel that creating social enterprise units that can take a products-and-services approach to revenue generation—much like that of Newman’s Own—can generate revenue streams that can scale,” says Nischan. Here, Kelly describes his primary objectives, what he’s already accomplished and his plans going forward.
What was your background prior to Wholesome Wave and how is that helping you now?
I co-founded a charity called the Kelly Gang that, over the last 12 years, has donated over $700,000 to various charities, so giving back is in my blood. And I’ve been in media for 35 years—25 of them at American Express publishing, overseeing titles including Food & Wine, Travel & Leisure and Departures. In fact, it was through Food & Wine that I met Michel, at the 2012 Food & Wine Classic in Aspen. His enthusiasm and vision is powerfully infectious.
What is your role at Wholesome Wave?
My role at Wholesome Wave is Chief Xpansion Officer (CXO). I’ll have direct oversight of marketing/PR and development teams, and I’m also responsible for brand building, communication and revenue generation. As the title suggests, I’ll work to expand our visibility and impact through partnerships with corporations, foundations and individuals who share our commitment to accelerating affordable access to healthy food choices in low-income communities nationwide.
What are some initiatives or changes you’ve been working on?
I’m here to tell the story and raise more money. Michel’s ideas are powerful and, nine years in, the organization is making healthy foods affordable and accessible for 150,000 people annually. Now Wholesome Wave is in a position to scale up and reach millions of Americans. It’ll be my job to make the message clear and compelling, and to get this work the ink and airtime it deserves. And I’ll be expanding our donor base and developing corporate partnerships, so that, nationwide, we can bring the farm-to-table movement to low-income communities—to mutual benefit. Low-income families may spend only a few dollars per day on groceries, but in aggregate, that’s over $150 billion a year. When we shift even a slice of that towards local produce, we see big wins for families, farmers, the economy, the environment and public health.
What are your goals for Wholesome Wave in the next year, five years and 10 years?
As Michel says, we want to expand our national network to all 50 states, to go from reaching 150,000 to reaching millions, and to grow USDA support [FINI in the Farm Bill] from $1 million to $1 billion. When I tell my friends about my new job, they say, “That’s cool—I’ve never heard of it!” I’m here to spread a lot more of the former, and help eradicate the latter. And once people learn about Wholesome Wave’s work, I know they’ll want to cut us a check.
Come meet Wholesome Wave’s Michel Nischan this September at our Wine + Food Festival in Greenwich, CT. Click here for details.