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HUNTINGTON — It’s an age-old question parents ask themselves: How do I get my child to eat more fruits and vegetables?

In 2017, the WVU Extension Office found a way. The office brought farmers markets to schools that year, giving students $4 coupons to spend on locally grown fruits and veggies. Parents surveyed later said their children ate almost all of the food they bought.

Thus, the SNAP Stretch program was born.

Unveiled Thursday at The Wild Ramp in Huntington’s Old Central City, SNAP Stretch is a program aimed at encouraging SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) recipients to buy more fresh and local fruits and vegetables. For every SNAP dollar spent at a participating market, the shopper will receive a dollar back to spend on fresh produce. If the shopper has a child, the child also receives equivalent coupons only the child can spend in the market.

Spencer Moss, executive director of the West Virginia Food and Farm Coalition, said the child coupon portion of the program is what sets this program apart from others in the country.

Currently, there are 19 farmers markets in 15 West Virginia counties participating in the SNAP Stretch program. The Wild Ramp is the only one in Cabell County.

Moss said 33 percent of West Virginians live in what is called a food desert, and 1 in 5 adults and 1 in 3 children rely on nutrition assistance.

“Staggering numbers like these motivate organizations like ours, like The Wild Ramp and many partners across the state to develop and work on programs to alleviate these issues,” Moss said.

The program is funded through a $100,000 U.S. Department of Agriculture grant and local philanthropic organizations. Because it’s majority federally funded, the program will pump even more money into the local economy than SNAP already does.

Del. Chad Lovejoy, D-Cabell, said $4 million every month is spent at SNAP retailers in Cabell County alone.

“Not only is it the right thing to do as human beings, as keepers of our brothers and sisters, but it’s the right thing to do from an economic standpoint,” Lovejoy said.

SNAP Stretch is supported by the West Virginia Food and Farm Coalition, WVU Extension SNAP Education, the West Virginia Farmers Market Association and the USDA Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive program.

Eligibility for SNAP is dependent upon financial and non-financial requirements including household size, income, assets and some household expenses. To apply for SNAP benefits, contact the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources office in the county in which you reside.

Follow reporter Taylor Stuck on Twitter and Facebook @TaylorStuckHD.

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