MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – The Walmart Foundation has provided a $658,000 grant to the West Virginia University Extension Service Family Nutrition Program (FNP) to help provide West Virginians access to fresh, healthy and locally grown foods and research-based nutrition education.

A news release from WVU stated that fresh and healthy foods can be difficult to find in rural West Virginia. One in four rural West Virginians is food insecure, and with the recent public health crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, it is anticipated that more West Virginians will not have reliable access to food, according to the release.

The release also stated the food insecurity directly affects the health of the state’s residents, as 40% of West Virginians are obese, 16% have diabetes and 13% have cardiovascular disease. The grant is aimed to help expand access to healthy foods in West Virginia, according to the release.

WVU officials said in the release that “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. 

The release stated that 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 and SNAP recipients will see a two- or three-fold increase in their buying power at farmers’ markets through the SNAP Stretch program.

Additionally, the release stated that two food pantries in each of the targeted counties will receive cold storage capability to increase the amount of fresh and health foods they distribute as part of a new Farm-to-Food Pantry program.

“Access to healthy food builds the foundation for good health in communities,” says Eileen Hyde, director, Sustainable Food Systems and Food Access for “Our goal is to improve people’s ability to more consistently consume nutritious food. That involves connecting people to the food they need as well as building confidence in their choices. We’re excited to support and learn from the West Virginia University Extension Service’s innovative program that will help West Virginians improve their health.” 

The release stated that alongside these grant programs, FNP will provide evidence-based nutrition education and obesity prevention programming through its 45 nutrition educators across the state, who reach around 20,000 youths and 1,200 adults each year.

“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 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.” 

The release stated that FNP will rely on several partners to help implement the grant programs.

To provide a first-hand 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, according to the release. Additionally, 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.

WVU officials said the grant was made through the WVU Foundation, which is the nonprofit organization that receives and administers private donations on behalf of the university.

The release stated that the WVU Extension Service Family Nutrition Program’s work is supported by the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program from the USDA Food and Nutrition Service.