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Locals discuss future of food access

By LACIE PIERSON

The Herald-Dispatch

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — Nearly 30 people from throughout West Virginia met in Huntington on Tuesday to initiate plans to give West Virginians more access to local produce.

At Heritage Farm, food, health and social advocates took the first steps in establishing a Double Up Food Bucks program that would allow people using SNAP benefits to basically double their spending power when they use their benefits to purchase food at local farmers markets.

The event was organized by Courtney Boyd, an Appalachian Transition Fellow with Unlimited Future Inc., a not-for-profit microenterprise development center and business incubator.

“When it comes to food access, there are a lot of food barriers as to why people might not have access to local produce,” Boyd said. “One of the biggest barriers is price. That’s what this program seeks to accomplish is reducing the price of local produce so people can have more produce for less up-front cost.”

The event also included representatives from The Wild Ramp, Refresh Appalachia, the West Virginia Farmers Market Association, the Facing Hunger Foodbank, the Coalfield Development Corp., and representatives from similar markets and entities in Charleston, Lewisburg and Morgantown, Boyd said.

Double Up Food Bucks is based on a model used in Michigan that has been implemented in 25 states across the country, according to a news release from Unlimited Future.

West Virginia is among five states where officials are considering such a program.

In the Double Up program, people who receive SNAP benefits will basically be able to spend twice the amount of money on food if they are buying food in farmers markets. So, if they have $50 to spend in SNAP benefits, they would be able to buy $100 in produce if it comes from a local farmers market.

“The good news is we have so many markets that are interested because it really does help farmers markets and our vendors to increase sales,” Mascari said. “It helps our communities because people in our communities get access to local, more healthy, high quality food that they may not be able to find at their local convenience store.”

The Double Up program was developed by Fair Food Network, and funding for it would come from the Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive program, or FINI, which was established in the federal Agricultural Act of 2014.

To date, there are 575 Double Up sites in the participating states, and $4.4 million in Double Up and SNAP sales have been realized as of June 2017, according to a data sheet from Double Up.

“I think this is another rung in the ladder toward Huntington and West Virginia becoming healthier,” said Lauren Kemp, with Unlimited Future. “Huntington’s already had so many successes like Huntington’s Kitchen and The Wild Ramp I think this is another good step for the city to take to be healthier as a community.”

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