SNAP Stretch encourages healthy eating choices and supports local farms.
Who doesn’t like to stretch their dollar?
Now, West Virginians who benefi t from the state’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) can double or triple their food dollars at participating farmers markets, roadside stands, and CSAs, thanks to the West Virginia Food & Farm Coalition, West Virginia Farmers Market Association, and WVU Extension Family Nutrition, which is funded in part by USDA SNAP.
“It’s a win win win,” says West Virginia Food & Farm Coalition Food Equity Director Laura Dice Hill. “SNAP recipients, through this dollar-for-dollar match, have the ability to choose more healthy options of fresh produce while at the same time putting money back into the economy by supporting our local farms.”
How it works
West Virginians with a SNAP card use the card to pay for everyday food items at participating farmers markets. SNAP Stretch automatically matches what is spent, doubling the amount of money that can be used on fresh fruit and vegetables. And if a SNAP household brings a child to the market, SNAP Stretch will match the money for fruits and vegetables again, tripling the value of the SNAP dollars. Hill says, “If a lowincome family uses their SNAP card for $20 at a local farmers market, they receive $20 in product plus an extra $20 through SNAP Stretch to spend on fruits and vegetables—and if they have a child with them, the child gets another $20.”
Each farmers market can choose to implement SNAP Stretch in a way that works best for their community. Some traditional weekly outdoor farmers markets swipe the SNAP card at a central location and SNAP Stretch tokens or “market bucks” are given in return. Another method is for a farmer or mobile market to visit a senior housing facility, school, child care center, or housing development and sell on-site. A third model is for a brick and mortar farmers market, like The Wild Ramp in Huntington, to off er a year-round option for customers.
Thanks to a grant originally written by an area doctor, Mark Cucuzzella, the Charles Town Farmers Market introduced its own version of doubling SNAP benefits as early as 2015. So
now with SNAP Stretch, those receiving SNAP benefits can actually quadruple the amount
of money they spend on fruits and vegetables. Fiona Harrison, the market manager of the
Charles Town Farmers Market, says that since they’ve added SNAP Stretch this spring, they’ve seen incredible participation. “Within a couple of weeks, we had to print a couple of thousand more of our currency,” she says. “There are so many success stories. One woman who was recently divorced said to me, ‘You have no idea how much this helps me and my family.’ Her kids divvy up their SNAP Stretch money and put it in their own envelopes. She’s teaching them math, wise giving, healthy choices, and the value of money—and they actually eat the food, because they buy food they want to eat. There’s nothing but good things happening in the community because of SNAP Stretch.”
The fruit and vegetable vendors at the Charles Town Farmers Market have been very receptive. “It has been a glowing success,” says Harrison. “The vendors love seeing the children getting involved in picking fresh produce.” And it’s been good for the local economy. “During our best week this summer, $1,500 to $2,000 went into the market from SNAP Stretch.”
Sherrie Taylor of Thankful Valley Farms and Hatchery also can’t praise the program enough. But she has a different approach. She takes locally grown produce aggregated from 19 farms to low-income families in pop-up farmers markets in five counties—serving them where they live and where the need is greatest. “I see about 2,000 people a week across five counties—Kanawha, Fayette, Cabell, Mason, and Putnam,” Taylor says. “I go to low-income housing developments, senior living facilities, schools, and clinics. A lot of these areas are food deserts. Most of the people I see don’t have transportation. Some have health issues. Some aren’t mobile. Some are disabled. Some can’t afford a bus ride. I often just give a lot of food away. I can’t stand to see a person go hungry.”
Last year Taylor put 58,000 miles on her truck, pulling a 16-foot-trailer. “Some days I cry all the way home. You can’t understand the hunger I see,” she says. “They can’t afford to eat healthy. They get lectured by doctors for not eating healthy. They want choices, but they don’t have choices. They’d choose to eat healthier if they could, but they often don’t have transportation, they don’t have a means to cook, they don’t have money, and then they get depressed. It’s a vicious cycle. No one should be without food. SNAP Stretch is helping, but there’s such a staggering need. I can’t do it all by myself.”
Just the facts
There are 342,000 West Virginians who receive SNAP benefits—benefits amounting to $1.20
per person per meal. Of that number, 137,000 are children. SNAP is instrumental in ensuring
that children get the food they need each day—and when children eat better food, they feel better, learn more, and grow up healthier. By incentivizing low-income families to make healthier food choices, SNAP Stretch aims to break the cycle of hunger and poor nutrition and at the same time be a positive influence on our local economy. According to the West Virginia Food & Farm Coalition, in 2017, $453 million SNAP dollars were pumped into the economy. Of that, only 0.01 percent went to farmers—and more than 85 percent were redeemed in big box grocery and superstores. SNAP Stretch wants to change that statistic.
How can you help?
- Get the word out. Encourage those receiving SNAP benefits to take advantage of SNAP Stretch.
- Encourage your local farmers markets to participate in SNAP Stretch.
- Make a donation to your local market or the WV Food & Farm Coalition so that program like SNAP Stretch continue to receive funding