Many nonprofits passionately pursue their missions aimed at addressing a single critical issue in our communities. Others—truly transformative organizations—boldly seek to change the landscape of intersecting issues entirely. The Wide Net Project is one such organization.
Founded by Sharon Feuer Gruber and Wendy Stuart, the Wide Net Project is an outgrowth of their aptly named consulting practice, Food Works Group, which “focuses on designing and implementing projects that advance positive change across the foodscape.” Sharon and Wendy have identified a pervasive environmental problem in the overpopulation of nonnative blue catfish in the Chesapeake Bay. The Wide Net Project turns this overabundance of a source of healthy, lean protein into a solution to hunger in our local communities.
By providing the fish at market cost to purchasers through their distribution partner and by educating the public about the mission of the Wide Net Project, the team builds a greater market for wild blue catfish. Then, for every pound sold, about one additional portion is donated to community agencies. For example, selling 100 pounds at MOM’s Organic Market (available at all locations starting in March) means 100 people can be served this local, wild fish for dinner at a hunger-relief organization.
As with their other projects, Sharon and Wendy focus on creating greater linkages and efficiencies across the food system. This approach ultimately brings to the table, so to speak, movements that have historically not been aligned, like environmentalism and hunger relief. Sharon says, “[Our] aim is to help things work better across different sectors—from production to distribution and consumption—to bolster the entire local food system.”
There’s been an overwhelmingly positive reception to the quality and taste of the fish. As Wendy excitedly shares, “We’re asking people to eat something delicious.” Blue catfish are harvested while still small, and since they live throughout the entire water column, not only the bottom, they have a clean taste described as sweet, rich, and succulent and differing greatly from the “muddy” taste some might associate with catfish.
Although catfish is not kosher, Jewish values nevertheless drive the Wide Net Project—by way of its mission to address environmental issues and hunger relief and support sustainable jobs in the food sector. This high-quality, affordable, lean protein is available year-round, providing a stable income for those who fish it, where as other wild fish have quotas, limiting when and where watermen can fish.
Additionally, as the Book of Ruth teaches in Jewish tradition, gleaning can be an integral part of addressing hunger; along those lines, the Wide Net Project makes the most of an underutilized food resource. For those who eat non-kosher fish, the Wide Net Project provides an opportunity for consumers to act as advocates and help make change with how they allocate their food dollars.
If you don’t see Wide Net wild blue catfish on a menu at a local (non-kosher) establishment, then you can spread the word and suggest it. Nonprofit partners, like Arcadia Center for Sustainable Food and Agriculture, Miriam’s Kitchen and, soon, ten public charter schools served by DC Central Kitchen, all stand to benefit.
Top photo courtesy of the Wide Net Project.