In West Virginia, one in five children does not have reliable access to sufficient food - especially healthy food - due to limited financial resources, lack of transportation and other factors. But CSX and The Conservation Fund are working to improve food security in these at-risk communities through a program that provides increased access and funding for healthy foods for hundreds of children and families living below the poverty line in five of the state's lowest income counties: Calhoun, McDowell, Mingo, Roane and Wirt.
CSX, a leading provider of rail-based transportation services, and The Conservation Fund, a national nonprofit dedicated to finding conservation solutions that balance environmental and economic needs, teamed up to provide fresh food vouchers to children that can be redeemed at local farmers markets for fresh fruits and vegetables.
"Food security is one of the most pressing issues facing our children, and one that directly impacts their overall health and well-being," said Kris Hoellen, Vice President of Sustainable Programs for The Conservation Fund. "Access to fresh produce with an opportunity to teach children how food goes from the farm to the table gives these children - and their families - the opportunity for a long-term healthy lifestyle. We applaud CSX for investing in the future of West Virginia."
"West Virginia is an integral part of both the history and future of CSX, and CSX is committed to investing in its neighbors here by delivering information and access to healthy food and nutrition," said Tori Kaplan, Assistant Vice President, Corporate Social Responsibility, CSX. "This partnership with The Conservation Fund supports our mission to help West Virginia communities live greener, healthier and safer lives."
On August 21, West Virginia Department of Agriculture Communications Director Buddy Davidson visited the Falls River Elementary School mobile farmers market in McDowell County to see firsthand how the voucher program benefits local children and families.
"Food security is a critical issue for many West Virginians, and the West Virginia Department of Agriculture is pleased to be working with CSX and the Conservation Fund to help our citizens eat fresh, healthy, locally grown produce," said West Virginia Commissioner of Agriculture Walt Helmick. "This is a benefit not just to the participants, but also to our farmers. We have a huge economic opportunity to grow our state's economy from within by producing more of what we consume."
Throughout the five counties, the vouchers are being distributed by libraries, elementary schools and summer programs like Energy Express, an award-winning summer reading and nutrition program for children living in West Virginia's rural and low-income communities. Families in Mingo County will also be able to use the vouchers at a mobile farmers market, which will visit seven communities within the county to help those without access to transportation. In McDowell County, some children will be able to redeem their vouchers right at their school. One thousand children from each county will receive vouchers this summer and fall.
The following farmers markets are already participating in the voucher program:
- Amma Farmers Market
- Spencer Farmers Market
- Calhoun County Farmers Market
- Grantsville Farmers Market
- Elizabeth Farmers Market
- Williamson Farmers Market
- 4 elementary schools in McDowell County
Through additional funding from the program, these farmers markets will team up with the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to provide cooking demonstrations and distribute recipes and information on cooking, storing and preparing fresh, seasonal food. This will provide opportunities for kids to sample and become familiar with new foods, so that they can incorporate them into their eating habits and their parents can learn how to prepare and cook healthy food.
Eva Musick with Mingo Diabetes noted: "A child said to me once, 'I've never tried a strawberry.' We're hoping to give children here more fun and engaging opportunities to taste a variety of healthy, fresh food with help from CSX and The Conservation Fund."
This program is part of a broader effort between CSX and The Conservation Fund to improve Americans' access to fresh, healthy food. More than 23 million Americans across the country have limited or no access to fresh produce, dairy, meats and seafood. One of the contributors to these so-called "food deserts" is the lack of infrastructure to distribute fresh food to markets. Last month, CSX and The Conservation Fund launched a grant program that helps food distributors enhance their delivery capabilities to farmers markets and communities in need. More information and the grant application is available here.