How it Started & Where we're Going
SNAP Stretch in West Virginia was developed to increase the buying power of SNAP recipients, increase the consumption of locally grown fruits and vegetables, and decrease food insecurity. The program that we know today began as a United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)/ National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive award in late 2018 with only a handful of participating markets and a shoestring budget. SNAP Stretch has grown in size and participation every year, but was put to the test when the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted and exacerbated food access issues across West Virginia and nationwide.
The graph above is a visual representation of just how much the SNAP Stretch program has grown since its inception in late 2018. Today, SNAP Stretch has reached 35 West Virginia counties and is responsible for capturing over 2.6 million for our local food economy.*
*According to USDA and Colorado State University
West Virginia ranks 47th out of 50 in food insecurity with 15% of West Virginia residents experiencing food insecurity before the pandemic. In the unprecedented and unexpected wake of COVID-19, the West Virginia Food and Farm Coalition experienced a 442% increase in the use of the SNAP Stretch program during the 2020 season, reaching 8,426 families. The popularity of SNAP Stretch in 2020 even caused a brief hiatus in the program, freezing SNAP Stretch benefits for three months due to an exhausted budget.
In 2021, the program experienced a 66% increase, expending $497,454 incentive dollars and capturing an additional $483,371 in federal food assistance dollars within the local food economy while serving 22,597 families.
"Twila is a young teen with a passion for gardening! Her grandparents said she loves growing things and has expanded her garden almost double the size it was last year. Thanks to SNAP Stretch she was able to purchase lots of plants for her garden and get a voucher to redeem for fresh fruits and vegetables!"
It is imperative to strengthen a network of both farmers and retailers and grow the number of grocery stores that can offer healthy food options to all West Virginians regardless of where they live or their level of income. Programs like SNAP Stretch financially support healthy food choices while also supporting economic development for West Virginia farmers.
In 2021, Metheny's Farmers Market in Kingwood, West Virginia had a 157% increase in their EBT sales from the previous year. The small family-owned farm stand sold 1,800 dozen ears of corn, 762 bushel of tomatoes, 40 beeves in addition to eggs, jams, and more.
Western Greenbrier Farmers Market, Rainelle, WV
Due to the demand of local produce and meats during the pandemic, we started processing and selling our own meats at the market. We quickly learned that processing facilities are limited, but fortunately we were able to keep our business in state. We paid $165,171 to Preston County businesses and fellow farmers in 2021 for their goods and services. We have also teamed together with several farmers in the area and are working to open our own meat processing facility in Preston County. Our added income with SNAP Stretch has made all of this possible."
-Kim Stemple, owner
Metheny's Farmers Market and Garden Center, Kingwood, WV
For the last two years, the Coalition has advocated for statewide funding for SNAP Stretch to help bolster the current grand funded budget and ensure the permanence of the program. SNAP Stretch has proven that it is a successful program that was a priceless asset during a public health emergency, as well as creating economic development across the state in such a time of need. Below you can flip through a packet created in 2021 that has been used in advocacy efforts across the state that has more impressive statistics and stories from SNAP Stretch participating locations. You can also find our 2021 one-pager here.