• New ‘Make It Local’ cookbook highlights Alaska recipes for kids

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There has been a renaissance of local food in Alaska in recent years, but sometimes it’s difficult to get the kids to eat meals sourced with food from Alaska.

A new cookbook, “Make It Local: Recipes For Alaska’s Children,” produced by the Alaska Child Nutrition Programs, is full of kid-friendly recipes from around the state. The 111-page cookbook can be downloaded free online, or you can order a printed copy (see info at the bottom of the story). The cookbook is a joint project of the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development, the University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service, and the Farm to School Program. It is funded by a grant from USDA Team Nutrition.

The cookbook features a variety of recipes, such as reindeer ratatouille, baked halibut, and teriyaki salmon Caesar salad. It also includes portion sizes and nutrition info that meets the strict USDA requirements for school lunch programs. All of the recipes have been sampled by kids from around the state.

Unfortunately, the cookbook didn’t become available until after the state’s Nutritional Alaskan Foods in Schools program was cut from the budget. That program helped school districts purchase local foods for their students, and also helped Alaska farmers and fishermen meet expenses.

Tanya Dube, the kitchen manager for the Bristol Bay Borough School District, told Dillingham radio station KDLG the cuts made it difficult for small school districts to keep buying local foods. She said she sent a letter to Gov. Bill Walker asking him to return the Nutritional Alaskan Foods in Schools program to the 2017 budget.

“Here in Naknek, or up on the North Slope, or in the Southwest Region School District, we can’t really dedicate money to pay $3.99 a pound for Alaska carrots when we can get carrots grown way far away for $1.00 a pound,” Dube said. “So, losing those funds was a big hit for a lot of districts, but I think rural districts took the biggest hit.”

With deeper budget cuts on their way, Dube is not optimistic about that request, but she says she has to try.

“Asking for money is kind of an exercise in futility, but I feel like if we don’t ask, they’re gonna forget,” Dube said. “They’re gonna forget that there’s not only school children that benefit from having these products, but it benefits growers and producers. It benefits Alaska businesses, because they can plant more barley, or raise more cattle or pigs. It really benefits the whole food supply chain.”

This cookbook is available for online downloads at https://education.alaska.gov/tls/cnp/cookbook/Make_It_Local.pdf.  If you are interested in a printed copy, please contact Jan Mays at jan.mays@alaska.gov or 907-465-8712.

• Alaska Food Policy Council asks state legislators to return Farm to School program funds to the budget

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(Editor’s note: The following item is a letter to the editor from the Alaska Food Policy Council sent to several newspapers around Alaska regarding cuts to the Farm to School Program. One of the three signers to the letter is Sitka Local Foods Network Board President Lisa Sadleir-Hart, who also serves on the Alaska Food Policy Council governing board. To learn more about the Alaska Farm to School Program, check out the brochure below or contact Program Coordinator Johanna Herron at 907-761-3870 or johanna.herron@alaska.gov.)

As the legislature continues swinging its scythe at the state budget, one of the programs about to be felled is Farm to School. And in case you don’t have kids that can tell you firsthand the benefits of the program, or if you’re not an Alaska grower that finds a market in supplying school cafeterias with Alaska Grown produce, let us tell you what the Department of Natural Resources, Division of Agriculture, Farm to School Program does: It provides expertise and support for those working to increase the connection of students, teachers, and school food service providers with products grown and produced in Alaska. This connection most commonly happens in the school lunchroom or in a school garden.

Yet, in a state that prides itself in self-reliance, consider these striking facts:

  1. Alaskans spend $1.5 BILLION dollars on imported food each year.
  2. Only 5-10 percent of food consumed is produced or harvested in state, but great swaths of arable land remain uncultivated.
  3. About 15 percent of Alaska households are food insecure.
  4. Alaskans spend about $450 million dollars on treating diet-related medical conditions.
  5. We have a population that is largely disconnected from the food system – most kids can’t tell you what lies beneath the frilly green of a carrot top coming out of the soil.

These figures might sound gloomy, but they highlight the immense opportunity that we have to become healthier, wealthier, and more food secure. What if we spent that $1.5 billion on Alaska Grown products and kept that money in local economies? What if we produced more healthy foods in quantities that could meet the demands of our school cafeterias? What if we provided our children with the tools and knowledge necessary to make healthy food choices and maintain a healthy weight?

WhatIsAlaskaFarmToSchoolWe already have a key mechanism to achieving these goals – it’s the Farm to School Program. The Farm to School Program helps to prioritize getting locally produced, healthy goods into cafeterias; raise a generation of food leaders and smart consumers; and create a large, reliable market for increased in-state food production.

In three short years, the number of Alaska School Districts involved in Farm to School has grown from zero to 68 percent! There’s been an 11-percent increase in school gardens state-wide. One-hundred percent of the school districts are now serving at least one local food item in their meal programs and there’s still tremendous room for growth. In five years, the program has leveraged over $1 million dollars from partner agencies. This is just the shortlist of accomplishments.

All of this and more has been achieved with an annual budget of about $190,000. Talk about bang for your buck! If the legislature eliminates or cuts funding to the Farm to School Program, they aren’t cutting the fat out of the budget. They are cutting the carrots, the potatoes, the greens, and even the local fish out of your children’s lunches, and they’re cutting supports necessary to expand in-state production.

We implore the legislature not to eliminate or reduce the funding for our Farm to School Program. It is an incredibly efficient use of a small amount of funds that has proven itself over the past five years and is one of the shining pillars of a state food system that is becoming stronger, more sustainable, and more resilient. Don’t let the legislature undo our current progress, and don’t let it stand in the way of what more can be done.

Signed,

Liz Snyder, Victoria Briggs, and Lisa Sadleir-Hart
Present and Past Board Co-Chairs, Alaska Food Policy Council (AFPC)

• Alaska Farm to School Brochure

• Pacific High School seeks VISTA volunteer to lead school lunch program

PHS VISTA flyerPacific High School, the alternative high school in Sitka, has been awarded a VISTA volunteer for up to three years to develop the school’s lunch program for replication, and to add summer food service and farm-to-school elements.

“It’s a very exciting opportunity for a person with a passion for food to gain program development skills and really make a difference in food systems here in Sitka,” Pacific High co-principal Sarah Ferrency said.

Applications are being accepted with the job to start in April. To apply, go to the Corporation of National Services website. A two-page job description is posted below. For more information, contact Sarah Ferrency at ferrencys@sitkaschools.org.

• Healthy Lunch, Healthy Life VISTA job description

• Pacific High School VISTA flier