• Sitka School District touts more state investment into local foods for school lunch programs

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During its Feb. 4 meeting, the Sitka School Board put its weight behind an effort to increase funding for locally sourced food in schools across the state.

In a resolution to the legislature, the board cited the success of Sitka’s Fish to Schools program as justification for extending a similar statewide program beyond one year. Nutritional Alaskan Food for Schools (NAFS) was introduced by Rep. Bill Stoltze (R-Anchorage) in 2012, and piloted last year. This year the governor has included funding of $3 million dollars for the program — but only for one year. All schools in Alaska will receive funding from the program, based on student population. The Sitka School District and state-run Mount Edgecumbe High School received $39,000 from the program last year, which mostly went for seafood purchases (Mount Edgecumbe did buy some potatoes from Gustavus, and Pacific High School bought some vegetables from St. Peter’s Fellowship Farm).

In late January, Tracy Gagnon, who coordinates the Fish to Schools program for the Sitka Conservation Society, submitted the following letter to the editor to the Daily Sitka Sentinel outlining the reasons to support the program.

Nutritional Alaskan Foods for Schools

Dear Editor,

Sitka is one of the first communities in Alaska to push for local foods in schools through the Fish to Schools program; now it’s time to go state-wide. The Governor has included in his FY15 budget state funding to reimburse school districts for their purchases of Alaskan grown or caught foods through the Nutritional Alaskan Foods for Schools program (NAFS). This makes it possible for schools to serve local, nutritious foods to their students, sourcing from farmers, fishermen, and processors in or around their communities. NAFS improves Alaska’s food security and helps us create a more sustainable local food system.

Representative Stoltze proposed NAFS in 2011, and more than 100 vendors and 48 school districts benefited from this legislation in the 2012-2013 school year. Nearly 90 percent of those 48 school districts purchased local seafood.

Every year food producers and school food service providers wait anxiously every spring for NAFS to pass. And usually it’s too late for farmers to meet the extra demand because they’ve already planted their crops and food service has already purchased other foods. Making this funding permanent would provide both food service and food producers the consistency necessary for advanced planning and coordination of harvest to ensure supply meets demand.

The Sitka Conservation Society thanks both the leadership of Representative Stoltze and Governor Parnell for including NAFS in his proposed budget. We urge Alaska Legislators to support the permanent funding of a program that increases Alaska’s food security, catalyzes Alaska’s food production, supports local communities, and improves the health of our students.

Tracy Gagnon
Community Sustainability Organizer
Sitka Conservation Society

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