Savanna Lyons, program manager of the West Virginia Food & Farm Coalition, polled participants about advocates of fresh produce access. The group came up with a long list, ranging from the state Department of Agriculture to the AARP.
Then she asked for a list of barriers to access. One of the first barriers mentioned is that only 20 percent of the farmers markets in the state accept SNAP benefits.
Participants said the major problem appears to be a lack of Internet access at some markets. It was said that benefits are distributed on debit cards, and Internet access is required for the cards to work.
Sen. Unger was the keynote speaker at the Bridgeport workshop and a similar session earlier in the week at Beckley. At Bridgeport, Unger said he has been told that one in five children born in West Virginia is born drug-addicted. "Compound that with poverty, neglect, abuse and other traumas," he said. "How can that child grow into a healthy adult?"
Observing that many people in West Virginia have given up on improving West Virginians' quality of life, Unger said he learned a term in Logan County for that lack of hope: "Appalachian fatalism."
Unger challenged the participants to change the political winds. "That's what you're doing," he said. "'Appalachian fatalism' - the darkness that has set on this state - you're blowing this away. And the system will respond."
The workshops were funded by the Kellogg Foundation and organized in large measure under the "Our Children, Our Future" banner, which aims to eliminate poverty in West Virginia.
Both workshops were sponsored in part by the West Virginia Coalition for Healthy Kids and Families and the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy. The Beckley workshop had 35 co-sponsors; the Bridgeport workshop had 40, said Kent Spellman, executive director of The Hub, in Fairmont.
The workshops aim to build momentum to get policy changes through the state Legislature next year. Policies from both workshops will be honed at a Sept. 24 symposium in Charleston and presented Sept. 25 to the Senate Select Committee on Children and Poverty.
Stephen Smith, executive director of the West Virginia Healthy Kids and Families Coalition, said participants will meet on Dec. 13 to vote on the 18 or so policies that have been explored and select the four or five policies that will be pursued in the 2014 session of the Legislature.