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As the last couple apples of the season are being plucked for the final days of the Shepherdstown Farmers Market, a new program to provide those fresh fruits to more consumers is just getting started. 

West Virginia University Professor of Family Medicine Mark Cucuzzella has partnered with Eastern Panhandle-area groups to help Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program recipients make their money go further at four local farmers markets.

“In West Virginia, not unlike many places in a country, there is food insecurity – meaning that your health outcomes and treatments are impacted by your ability to buy healthy foods,” Cucuzzella said. “So, making more healthy foods available to more people is necessary to improve overall health.”

The WV FresHealthy Bucks program allows EBT customers to swipe their card for however much they intend to spend at either the Shepherdstown, Charles Town, Morgans Grove or VA Medical Center farmers market, and that amount is doubled. The additional money, which is funded by WVU grants, as well as others, can then be used to purchase fruits and vegetables.

“Though the program has only been operational for about two months, it has already made a huge impact on the market,” said Megan Webber, a market master for the Shepherdstown Farmers Market. “We have about five core customers who are here every week to use the program. That means that mom who comes in with three kids and $40 to spend on her EBT card can now have $80 to spend.”

This program is just one of many that have been springing up all over the country in an effort to have farmers markets accept EBT cards, provide more fresh foods to SNAPrecipients, support local farmers and benefit the local economy.

Kristina James, who operates Blueberry Hill Vegetables with her husband and his family, said she’s happy to see this program get started in the Eastern Panhandle markets, as she has seen success with it in the Washington, D.C., area markets she attends.

“I think it’s fabulous that those parents and their young children get to benefit, but we as farmers benefit as well,” James said. “We have definitely seen an increase in sales; and that’s just great for everyone. It’s a wonderful program, and I think it should be everywhere.”

Cucuzzella said the goal is to expand the program to more families, especially through the use of the mobile market.

“We’re just now getting started, but it’s taking off, and I think it’s just going to get better and better,” Cucuzzella said. “I think it’s going to lead to some great things.”

The WV FresHealthy Bucks program is a partnership between Eastern Area Health Education Center, WVU Medicine University Healthcare Physicians, Wholesome Wave and the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation.

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