Doctor Helps Create Program to Provide Healthful Fruits, Vegetables to SNAP Recipients

Mark Cucuzzella, MD, a professor of family medicine at West Virginia University (WVU), has partnered with West Virginia's Eastern Panhandle-area groups to help Supplemental Nutrition Assistant Program (SNAP) recipients make their money go farther at four local farmers' markets.

"In West Virginia, not unlike many places in the country, there is food insecurity—meaning that your health outcomes and treatments are impacted by your ability to buy healthful foods," Cucuzzella says. "So, making more healthful foods available to more people is necessary to improve overall health."

The West Virginia FresHealthy Bucks program allows SNAP customers to swipe their EBT (Electronic Benefit Transfer) cards for however much they intend to spend at one of four area farmers' markets, and that amount is doubled. The additional money, which is funded by WVU grants, as well as others, can then be used to purchase fruits and vegetables.

"Though the program has only been operational for about two months, it has already made a huge impact on the market," says Megan Webber, a market master for the Shepherdstown Farmers' Market. "We have about five core customers who are here every week to use the program. That means that mom who comes in with three kids and $40 to spend on her EBT card can now have $80 to spend."

This program is just one of many that have been springing up all over the country in an effort to have farmers' markets accept EBT cards, provide more fresh foods to SNAP recipients, support local farmers, and benefit local economies.

Kristina James, who operates Blueberry Hill Vegetables in Clear Spring, Maryland, with her husband and his family, says she's happy to see this program get started in the Eastern Panhandle markets, as she's seen success with it in the Washington, D.C., area markets she attends.

"I think it's fabulous that those parents and their young children get to benefit, but we as farmers benefit as well," James says. "We have definitely seen an increase in sales, and that's just great for everyone. It's a wonderful program, and I think it should be everywhere."

Cucuzzella says the goal is to expand the program to more families, especially through the use of the mobile market.

"We're just now getting started, but it's taking off, and I think it's just going to get better and better," Cucuzzella says. "I think it's going to lead to some great things."

— Source: West Virginia University