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Access to fresh, healthy, locally grown foods and research-based nutrition education in rural communities is a challenge. A grant provided by the Walmart Foundation will allow the WVU Extension Service Family Nutrition to help address that issue and take on the state’s food insecurity problem from several angles.

MORGANTOWN — Fresh, healthy foods can be difficult to find in rural West Virginia communities.

One in four of the state’s rural residents is food insecure, and with the recent public health crisis, it is anticipated that more West Virginians will not have reliable access to food. Food insecurity also affects the state’s health: 40% of West Virginians are obese, 16% have diabetes and 13% have cardiovascular disease.

But now, a $658,000 Walmart Foundation grant to the West Virginia University Extension Service Family Nutrition Program will help West Virginians improve their health by increasing access to fresh, healthy, locally grown foods and research-based nutrition education.

“Appetite for a Healthier Future” will focus on 10 West Virginia counties — Barbour, Boone, Cabell, Greenbrier, Lincoln, McDowell, Mercer, Mingo, Roane and Upshur — and will take on the state’s food insecurity problem from several angles.

Students at low-income schools will gain access to locally grown fruits and vegetables through West Virginia Kids’ Markets. Patients living with chronic diseases and food insecurity will receive free, fresh foods through FARMacy programs at their doctors’ offices. SNAP recipients will see a two- or three-fold increase in their buying power at farmers markets through the SNAP Stretch program. Two food pantries in each of the targeted counties will receive cold storage capability to increase the amount of fresh, healthy foods they distribute as part of a new Farm-to-Food Pantry program.

“Kids Markets, SNAP Stretch and the FARMacy program have already proven successful as pilot projects,” said Gina Wood, FNP specialist and West Virginia Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program coordinator. “We have seen how they can improve people’s health. Now, thanks to the Walmart Foundation, we can bring these tried-and-true programs to more West Virginians than ever before.”

Alongside these grant programs, the Family Nutrition Program will provide evidence-based nutrition education and obesity prevention programming through its 45 nutrition educators across the state, relying on several partners to help implement the grant programs.

To provide a firsthand account of food-related lived experiences, Lauri Andress, assistant professor, WVU School of Public Health, will use community-based participatory methods to collect photo and audio narratives from health practitioners, food pantry staff and families in the 10-county region.

The WVU Office of Health Services Research at the WVU School of Public Health will work with clinics to set up FARMacy programs and help evaluate patient health outcomes. The WVU Food Justice Lab, part of the newly created Center for Resilient Communities in Eberly College’s Department of Geology and Geography, will provide technical support to project partners and stakeholders while also working with FNP to collect feedback from participating partners on the grant programs.

The West Virginia Food and Farm Coalition will coordinate the SNAP Stretch program and provide card readers to farmers markets that don’t yet have them. Turnrow Appalachian Farm Collective will connect Kids Markets and FARMacy programs with produce from local farmers. Mountaineer Foodbank and Facing Hunger Foodbank will partner with FNP to identify food pantries that need cold storage capability. represents the philanthropic efforts of Walmart and the Walmart Foundation, helping people live better by supporting programs that work to accelerate upward job mobility for front-line workers; address hunger and make healthier, more sustainably grown food a reality; and build strong communities where Walmart operates.

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