Gus Schumacher has had his hand in agriculture from the day he was born. The District resident and co-founder of Wholesome Wave came from a family of farmers and, according to one source, put himself through Harvard by selling, believe it or not, ornamental gourds for holiday tables.
Schumacher, 73, would become one of the major voices in agriculture, both here and abroad. He was undersecretary of agriculture for the Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services at the U.S. Department of Agriculture from 1997 to 2001, where he oversaw several agencies while also serving as president of the Commodity Credit Corporation. More resume highlights: He served as administrator of the USDA's Foreign Agricultural Service, worked as a senior agri-leader for the World Bank and served as commissioner of food and agriculture for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. He still holds the position of agricultural editor for Food Arts magazine, which was started by the late Michael Batterberry, who also co-founded Wholesome Wave with Schumacher and chef Michel Nischan.
Now Schumacher is a James Beard Foundation award winner, too. He was one of five people named today to receive the foundation's third annual Leadership Award. The others include Hal Hamilton (founder of the Sustainable Food Lab), Cynthia Hayes (executive director of the Southeastern African-American Farmers Organic Network), nutritionist and author Marion Nestle and Ricardo Salvador, the District-based director of the Food and Environment Program for the Union of Concerned Scientists.
As executive vice president of policy at Wholesome Wave, Schumacher has been instrumental in the Connecticut-based organization's mission to "improve access and affordability of fresh, healthy, locally grown produce to historically underserved communities." Wholesome Wave's projects include an innovative Fruit and Vegetable Prescription Program, in which doctors write scripts to high-risk, low-income patients who need more fresh produce in their diet. The program is currently in at least five states and cities, including the District and New York.
In classic Schumacher fashion, he used his award to highlight other projects and initiatives.
"This Beard Foundation award was quite a surprise and especially an honor coming just before the kickoff of USDA’s National Farmers Market Week," Schmacher e-mailed, noting the week that starts Aug. 4. "So pleased with the growth in farmers markets nationally. The District now has over 40 markets with the D.C. Council putting in $200,000 to further support our Wholesome Wave nutrition incentive programs for D.C. SNAP, WIC and senior families for the 2014 season.”
A professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies and Public Health at New York University, Marion Nestle has been researching and writing about food, nutrition and politics for decades. Her work has already earned many honors, including two previous James Beard Foundation awards.
"I love getting awards, and who would not?" e-mailed Nestle, a frequent source for the Food section. "And this one is particularly wonderful because it recognizes the work of people who are doing what they can to create more humane, socially just and environmentally sustainable food systems that will be healthier for people and the planet. I’m hugely honored to be considered in the same category as my fellow honorees."
The winners will be honored at a dinner ceremony on Oct. 21, part of the Beard Foundation’s fourth annual Food Conference on Oct. 21 and 22 in New York City.