FoodCorps––and the broader movement for a more just food system––lost a friend and visionary this week with the death of Gus Schumacher.
August Schumacher, Jr. was born in 1939 on the outskirts of Boston. His distinguished career carried him far from the parsnip farm he grew up on, but his life’s work kept him close to the land. A lifelong public servant, Gus spent time as the Massachusetts commissioner of food and agriculture, became a high-ranking official at the USDA, and co-founded the food access nonprofit Wholesome Wave. Through five decades of warmth and work, Gus bridged the divide between farmers and people in need of food.
A civic entrepreneur with a deep commitment to those in need, Gus approached his career with a creativity and passion that turned dry policies into powerful engines for good. He was an influential force behind the creation of the WIC Farmer’s Market Nutrition Program, the Senior Farmers Market Program, and the SNAP Incentive Program, and he partnered with immigrant and refugee farmers to ensure they gained access to the resources and markets they needed for their businesses to thrive.
Gus also played an important role in the birth of FoodCorps. He mentored our founding team and convinced prospective funders we were a group of young ‘uns worth betting on. He hosted a welcome reception when our first class went Washington, and invited our nervous team to his home the night before we got to plant the White House Garden.
On the luckier visits to Gus’s home, he would take his grandfather’s journal from the shelf, and quote harvest records and market prices from the vegetable farm his ancestors operated in the Bronx, on land that’s now unrecognizably urban.
Visiting the neighborhood now, and seeing the greenmarkets and gardens and FoodCorps schools that have sprung up there, you can see the heart and soul it takes to connect a community to healthy food. It’s work you could spend your life doing. And if Gus Schumacher’s life is any evidence, the world would be a far better place if you did.