The Sitka Conservation Society, which coordinates Sitka’s Fish to Schools program, has published a new resource guide, A Guide to Serving Local Fish in School Cafeterias, to help other school districts around the state implement similar programs in their communities.
The Sitka Fish to Schools program came out of the 2010 Sitka Health Summit, when local residents chose as one of its community wellness projects to serve more local seafood in our schools. Since then the program has grown so that all students from Grades 2-12 in Sitka have a local seafood lunch option at least twice a month. This includes the Sitka School District schools, Keet Gooshi Heen Elementary School, Blatchley Middle School, Sitka High School, and Pacific High School, plus other local schools, the state-run boarding school Mount Edgecumbe High School and the private K-8 The SEER School.
Sitka is one of the first districts in the state to serve local seafood through the National School Lunch Program and has become a leader in the State of Alaska in getting local foods into schools. In the last three years, the number of schools interested in serving local seafood has increased ten-fold. Haines, Dillingham, Kodiak, Galena, and Juneau are a few of the districts that are now serving seafood in their meal programs.
In an effort to support regional and statewide efforts to serve local foods in schools, the Sitka Conservation Society developed a “how-to” guide to serving fish in schools. Using Sitka as a case study, it outlines procurement and processing strategies, legalities, tips, and recipes. Also included are case studies from around the state that offer tips and suggestions based on the success of their programs.
The Sitka Fish to Schools program has seen an increase in meal participation on fish lunch days, likely attributed to the participation of students who typically bring a sack lunch. One student who reported never liking fish started to eat fish after a local chef came to her classroom. Others students circle fish lunch dates on their school lunch calendar, refusing home lunch that day. And why are they so excited? A middle school student put it this way, “It’s healthy and good for you and you feel good after you eat it.” Others give reasons of wanting to become a fisherman or cite the economic value to their community.
In addition to this guide is the “Stream to Plate” curriculum, a unit of seven lessons that connect salmon to the classroom. The lessons address the ecological significance and human relationship to salmon. These lessons have been tried and refined the last three years with third graders at Keet Gooshi Heen Elementary School.
Chris Bryner, teacher and collaborator on the salmon unit said, “The Fish to Schools curriculum connects my classroom to the community. Students not only learn about a resource relevant to their daily lives, but come away with an understanding that learning happens inside and outside of school.”
As the ninth largest seafood port in the country, Sitka is paving the way for locally-sourced meals. Their efforts are part of a larger national movement, Farm to School, to get local foods in schools. The Alaska Farm to School program honored Sitka’s Fish to Schools program for its innovation a couple of years ago.
“The beauty of Fish to Schools is that it provides a practical, local solution to a multitude of current global issues,” Fish to Schools Co-Founder Lexi Fish said. Local sourcing reduces the environmental impact of foods grown and raised thousands of miles away and ultimately supports a more resilient food system.
Local fish in school lunches not only tastes “delicus” (stet), as one third grader put it, but also addresses food justice, nutrition, community sustainability, and conservation. To get a free copy of the guide and curriculum, visit http://sitkawild.org/2014/03/a-guide-to-serving-local-fish-in-school-cafeterias/ or contact Sitka Conservation Society Community Sustainability Organizer Tracy Gagnon at 747.7509 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Also, don’t forget to stop by the Celebrate Fish to State event from 6:30-7:30 p.m. on Thursday, March 20, at Blatchley Middle School to learn more about the efforts to expand the Fish to Schools program statewide.