School food service directors from the southeast to the northernmost parts of Alaska made the decision to serve only plain white milk during lunch and breakfast to cut back on the amount of sugar children drink during the school day.
In 2011, Carlee Johnson became the food service director at the Petersburg School District in Southeast Alaska. She learned that the children in Petersburg schools were offered chocolate milk every day of the week at school. Flavored milk was the most popular choice among the students, she said. Johnson started making changes to improve the availability of healthier food and drink options in Petersburg schools. Within months of her arrival at the district, Johnson’s food service program stopped ordering the chocolate milk.
“I completely took it out,” she said.
Geno Ceccarelli, food service coordinator, made the decision for the North Slope Borough School District when he started there five years ago. When he arrived, children could choose a chocolate or strawberry-flavored milk on Fridays. Ceccarelli said the flavored milk was high in sugar.
“So I eliminated it,” he said.
Johnson and Ceccarelli said some children and families were upset when the food service programs removed the chocolate milk from schools, but the food service directors explained the health reasons for making the change. When Petersburg students asked why they could no longer have chocolate milk, Johnson told them flavored milk is meant to be a treat offered only occasionally — “not like an everyday item.”
Both school districts participate in the National School Lunch and Breakfast programs, which provide low-cost or free meals to millions of eligible children nationwide during the school day. Participation in the program requires the schools to provide at least two options of milk for lunch, but those options do not need to include chocolate or flavored milk. The options can look like they do in North Slope and Petersburg, where they include two types of plain white milk: one low-fat and one fat-free.
Cutting out chocolate and flavored milk reduces added sugar served to children at school. An 8-ounce container of fat-free chocolate milk offered at school can have about 3 teaspoons of added sugar. The sugar that children drink plus the sugar that they eat can quickly take kids over the recommended daily limit of added sugar for the best health.
Added sugar wasn’t the only concern in the chocolate milk. Flavored milk also can have added salt, Johnson and Ceccarelli said. Added salt is something both are trying to reduce in the foods and drinks they serve to children in school.
Switching to only white milk was just one change Johnson and Ceccarelli made at their school districts to make meals healthier for children. Petersburg schools added salad bars and stopped serving some processed foods, like chicken nuggets. Ceccarelli cut the added sugar in foods by using pureed carrots, blueberries and applesauce as sweeteners. He switched white rice to brown rice and reduced added salt by switching to dried herbs to season foods.
“Trying to do better for the kids — that’s my goal,” he said. “Less sugar, less sodium, more flavors, whole grains.”
Ceccarelli and Johnson also encourage students to drink water, and both of their school districts have made water more available. Schools in Utqiaġvik, formerly called Barrow, supply pitchers of water for the children at lunch. Schools in North Slope villages often set out coolers of water, Ceccarelli said.
Water became more available in all Petersburg schools when the district replaced older water fountains with water bottle filling stations in the elementary, middle and high schools, as well as in the gym area. Then, district staff gave all students their own water bottles so they could drink water in class and throughout the day. The food service staff in Petersburg schools occasionally make water more appealing in the cafeteria, too, by providing sliced lemons or limes to flavor the water.
Strategies like these may work in other schools. Talk about these ideas with your school districts, PTAs, principals and wellness committees to see if they could work in your communities and schools. Read more online about other strategies schools across Alaska are using to make healthy foods, drinks and physical activity available to more children.
The Southeast Island School District (SISD) faces a few challenges when it comes to getting fresh fruits and vegetables. Its eight schools are scattered around several islands, with many accessible only by float plane. Produce travels long distances on a barge from Seattle, making several stops before reaching a Southeast Island school. Most vegetables don’t grow well in Southeast Alaska’s rainforest.
Despite the odds, Southeast Island students, teachers and communities are working together to provide their own freshly grown produce for their school lunch program. The district’s school garden program began in 2014, with a greenhouse funded by an Alaska Workforce Development Grant. When Thorne Bay School began using a wood-fired boiler, they funneled some of the heat to the greenhouse to help grow foods year-round. An indoor hydroponic system grew lettuce that was used for school lunches.
Four years later, the district has six greenhouses, one orchard, and over 100 berry bushes. Chickens and rabbits freely roam the orchards. Three schools now use an aquaponics system, where fish provide nutrients to the plants and the plants clean the water for the fish.
Fresh salad bars with locally grown produce are on the menu every day. Students also have access to the greenhouses and will eat fresh tomatoes as a snack.
“Students were happy to eat salad when they realized they could pluck leaves from the plants themselves,” said Megan Fitzpatrick, a teacher in the district’s Farm to School program and the district's greenhouse manager. "It’s rewarding to hear kids go from asking ‘That’s what a cucumber plant looks like?’ to eating salad every day at school.”
Along with the fresh produce, the school gardens add other benefits. The Southeast Island School District provides fruits and vegetables for local farmers markets. School curriculum includes the garden as well. For example, photosynthesis is taught in the greenhouse, and kids learn geometry by measuring garden beds, how much soil to fill them with, and how many plants can be added to each bed. The garden also has taught students job skills in agriculture.
This past summer, the school district received a national Farm to School grant that will help expand the successful program. The district’s future plans include providing training for safe-handling of local produce to food service workers in all eight schools, reclaiming 80 percent of food waste by separating garbage from compostable materials, making produce available in all eight schools’ cafeterias three times a week, and using surveys to show students’ awareness of a healthy diet.
The school district’s Farm to School program is challenging and a continual learning curve. It’s difficult to fit time in the daily class schedule that is solely dedicated to the garden. Yet, those involved in the program feel there’s nothing more rewarding than working with children and teaching them about food.
“If there’s anything that unites all walks of life, it’s food and it brings all people together,” said Fitzpatrick. “We all have food in common.”
October is national Farm to School month. To learn more about Farm to School in Alaska, visit http://dnr.alaska.gov/ag/ag_FTS.htm.
Photograph courtesy of the Southeast Island School District
It’s Wednesday, so children attending elementary schools in Sitka will have fish sandwiches made with Alaska pollock, peas and carrots for lunch.
That’s because the Sitka School District has a special program that serves locally harvested fish during hot lunch once a week — on Wednesdays — at all of its schools. Watch this video to see how the program works in the Sitka School District.
Sitka, an island community of about 9,000 residents in Southeast Alaska, is known for its local wild salmon. Every year, Sitka hosts a health summit. Community members pick goals to improve the health of their residents. Serving locally caught wild salmon and fish in schools became the goal at the 2010 summit. This program is now called Fish to Schools, and it relies on several partnerships with the Sitka Conservation Society and local fishermen.
Fish like wild salmon have health benefits. Fish provides:
"It's just really good for you, while tasting so good," said Eric Jordan, a Sitka fisherman who donates some of his catch to the program.
The school chefs at Sitka School District provide the children with a lot of variety when serving fish at lunch. They prepare baked salmon, fish nuggets, sweet and sour rockfish, salmon chowder and more.
“Now we’re doing homemade fish nuggets, our version of fish and chips, which is like the rockfish or the halibut when we have that. We take it, roll it in corn starch, dip it in a fat-free ranch, roll it in some herbed Panko (bread crumbs), and it’s baked. And it retains the moisture and the flavor and the seasonings,” said Jo Michalski, executive chef for the Sitka School District.
Strategies like these may work in other schools. Talk about these ideas with your school districts, PTAs, principals and wellness committees to see if they could work in your communities and schools. Read more online about other strategies schools across Alaska are using to make healthy foods, drinks and physical activity available to more children.
Alaska parents may think their children get a physical education class as often as they did growing up. In 2017, however, only 1 out of 5 Alaska high school students attended daily physical education classes.
Experts from SHAPE America and the National Association for Sport and Physical Education (NASPE) call for elementary schools to provide 150 minutes of physical education each week
. Not all elementary schools in Alaska provide that much. Some school districts and schools within districts, however, are making regular physical education classes a priority and seeing the benefits
Providing high-quality physical education (PE) in schools is not the same thing as providing physical activity. Time for physical activity, however, is a great way to practice what’s learned in PE classes and can help Alaska children grow up at a healthy weight. Recess is one example of physical activity time.
- teaches fundamental skills in movement, like throwing and catching a ball
- improves children’s motor skills
- builds a foundation for lifelong physical fitness habits, and
- delivers academic benefits, including the possibility of improving children’s behavior in the classroom, grades and test scores.
Meeting recommendations in Alaska schools
Elementary schools in two different Alaska school districts have found their own ways to meet the recommendations for PE each week. In the Petersburg School District
, that means providing PE classes four days each week and exceeding the 150 minutes of recommended PE time by the end of the school week. At Seward Elementary School
, that means PE class all five days of the school week, every week, for children in grades 3-5.
Petersburg School District
At Stedman Elementary School
, students in grades K-5 alternate between a week of gym class and a week of swim class, said Ginger Evens, teacher and wellness team member in the district. Students have 40 minutes of PE each day for four days during the school week, along with a minimum of 20 minutes of recess each day.
Daily physical activity and PE have become part of the school culture in Petersburg, Evens said.
“I believe Petersburg prioritizes meeting the national standards for PE time for children because of the overall benefits for their personal well-being, as well as for academic performance,” she said. “In the past, parents and community members have gone to school board meetings when there has been talk of cutting the swim program or reducing PE time and argued for keeping both programs.”
Petersburg’s commitment to PE also delivers the benefit of learning life-saving swimming skills in a coastal community. Students learn how to properly wear a life jacket, put on a survival suit and use cold water survival skills that are essential for a fishing community, Evens said.
Seward Elementary School in the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District
The teachers and principal at Seward Elementary School
had been investigating strategies for improvements at school. They read research showing the connection between more active time in PE classes and recess and improvements in students’ learning and behavior.
In 2005, the staff changed the class schedule so all students in grade 3–5 could get 30 minutes of PE class every day, said Mark Fraad, the school’s sole PE teacher. That enabled the elementary school to reach the recommended 150 minutes of PE time each school week. The change to PE time, however, required changes in other areas, too. The school staff agreed to start having students eat lunch in classrooms so the gym was open for more PE classes all day.
Students at Seward Elementary seek out activity time as a reward, Fraad said. When they meet a goal, students ask for more PE time instead of treats or a food-related party.
“We’re offering a healthy alternative to the pizza party,” he said.
School staff noticed improved student performance and behavior after adding more physical education time. During the school year following the addition of PE classes, the percent of students skilled in math and reading increased in grades 3–5.
Strategies like these
may work in other schools. Talk about these ideas with your school districts, PTAs, principals and wellness committees to see if they could work in your communities and schools. Read more online about other strategies
schools across Alaska are using to make healthy foods, drinks and physical activity available to more children.
Do you have 60 seconds?
Watch our new video that shows all the ways Alaska children get out and play for 60 minutes every day. You’ll see kids in Utqiaġvik chasing each other in the snow and kids in Bethel jumping down sand dunes. You’ll see kids in Unalakleet running through the neighborhoods, kids in Petersburg swimming, and kids in Sitka splashing in puddles and playing kickball. You’ll see children shooting hoops, climbing jungle gyms, jumping rope, tumbling, flipping, riding bikes, dancing and running among the totem poles in Southeast Alaska. They’re smiling, laughing and happy because they are moving.
Find our free materials online
We are sharing videos, related posters and materials across the state and asking you to share them with your family, friends, teachers and schools; in your health clinics; and with your community organizations. You can run these videos in waiting rooms or share them on your websites or social media channels. You can hang posters in your schools, recreational and community centers, medical and dental clinics, and in other places that children and families visit. All materials are free and can be downloaded online from our physical activity resources webpage and another webpage with materials focused on cutting back on sugary drinks and choosing water and healthy drinks instead. On those pages, you’ll find the following:
• A 30-second video showing Alaska kids playing
• A 30-second video about schools that have made it easier for students to drink water instead of sugary drinks
• A "Jump In" poster promoting 60 minutes of daily play
• A “Play” poster promoting all the fun ways children can be active every day
• A link to our longtime partner, the nonprofit Healthy Futures program that provides a free physical activity challenge through more than 150 Alaska elementary schools each year.
You also can request a package of our educational handouts (rack cards) to share with parents regarding the health and academic benefits of daily physical activity. Play Every Day also has several educational rack cards about choosing healthy drinks instead of sugary drinks. Go online to find version 1, version 2 and version 3 of these rack cards.
Help Alaska families overcome challenges to daily physical activity
We talk to Alaska families before we make our materials. We have heard the challenges they say they face when trying to meet the national recommendation for 60 minutes of daily physical activity. They talk about a lack of time and a commitment to other priorities, like homework for children, chores and work for parents. They talk about challenging weather, which can mean cold, snowy, dark days in some communities and wet, rainy days in others. They talk about how cost can get in the way, with some sports and activities coming with price tags that are out of reach. They talk about a lack of opportunities in some communities, which don’t have pools or gyms open after school and on weekends.
Play Every Day’s messages show there are ways to overcome those challenges to get to the benefits on the other side. Daily activity can mean time spent together as a family, going for hikes, riding bikes and playing basketball. Daily activity can help children grow up at a healthy weight and feel good about themselves. It can reduce the risk of developing diseases that can last a lifetime, including type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Physical activity also can improve academic performance, including grades and focus in the classroom.
Over the years, we have found so many examples of Alaska children facing cold, snowy or rainy days and choosing to play anyway. Utqiaġvik kids dressed in their parkas and snow pants and turned a snow pile into a fun place to slide and jump. Bethel kids did the same thing with a sand dune. Puddles on the Petersburg and Sitka playgrounds became opportunities to splash. The kids threw on their raincoats and played outside, even finding a break from the rain under the covered playgrounds that some Alaska schools build to help children stay active in wet weather. After playing in the snow, Utqiaġvik kids could warm up inside by playing at recess in an entire jungle gym and basketball court that’s built in the heated school building.
Learn more online about ways to support daily physical activity for the children in your life.
A year ago, about one-third of the residents in a small, rural Alaska community decided to take on a challenge — to eat only traditional, local foods for six weeks.
A group of Igiugig high school students in Teacher Tate Gooden’s classroom came up with the idea for what they called the Native Foods Challenge and then set it up as a school science study, complete with questions that needed answers:
- What would happen if the community ate only traditional, local foods for six weeks?
- How would their health be affected?
- Would they notice changes in blood pressure, blood sugar or body weight?
They followed up their questions with a written hypothesis: “We think this experience is going to be painful. People are going to be going through withdrawals from sugar and caffeine, but we think that our health is going to greatly improve.”
What started out as a children’s challenge resulted in noticeable improved physical health for the small village’s adults, Gooden said. Igiugig — southwest of Anchorage on the Alaska Peninsula — has only 69 residents. Twenty participants, ranging in age from 7 to 48, completed the challenge from Sept. 13 through Oct. 30, 2017.
“We had a lot of weight loss in the adults, which was great,” Gooden said. Nine adults lost a total of 192 pounds during the six weeks, he said. One adult who had diabetes reported being able to cut back on medication during the challenge. Another adult reported a decrease in high blood pressure, he said.
Gooden’s students wrote a report about the steps of their challenge from start to finish, they summarized their findings and then presented the project at the end of last school year during a science fair. It all started by reading a book for class.
Two years ago, Gooden’s high school students read “In Defense of Food,” by Michael Pollan. This book discusses an experiment in Australia when Aboriginal people traveled into their traditional rural homeland for seven weeks and ate only foods they could hunt or gather. Then they examined the health outcomes from such a diet.
After reading the book, Gooden’s class in the Lake and Peninsula School District wanted to try something similar in rural Alaska.
“We like to do more than learn about things,” Gooden said. “We like to invest and become involved with the topic.”
The students pitched the idea to the community and learned that many residents wanted to join in on the challenge. It started with baseline health screenings in January 2017 at the community health center run through Southcentral Foundation. The community health aide measured participants’ blood pressure, blood sugar levels and weight. Those screenings continued monthly through the end of the Native Food Challenge. Then the community scheduled the challenge to start in September 2017. Planning in advance meant participants had months to harvest, prepare and store fish, berries and greens to eat later during the challenge.
Each participant got to choose how strict they would be with their eating. Some called themselves “purists,” eating only foods found close to Igiugig. Another group only ate foods from Alaska. A third group focused only on whole foods, skipping packaged or processed foods. Igiugig has a store, but Gooden says the food there is often processed and costly. The fourth group of participants were less strict with their eating. All groups were allowed to add oats and salt to their diets.
Gooden listed many examples of what counted as locally caught or grown food: salmon, moose, ducks and geese, chickens, wild greens and berries, and food that grew in the gardens, such as kale, turnips, tomatoes, potatoes and rutabagas. What they were eating became a daily conversation, he said: “What are you having for dinner? Do you have anything for me? Do you want to trade?” Participants got creative with their ingredients. Someone made rutabaga and potato chips by thinly slicing the vegetables, then salting and baking them, Gooden said.
The group punctuated the food challenge with a 22-mile hike to Big Mountain, an area that is historically and culturally important to Igiugig residents, Gooden said. When they arrived, the participants had a potluck featuring native foods. It took multiple days to complete the hike, walking through windy, rainy and chilly weather. That hike stood out for the children.
“They were proud of themselves,” Gooden said. “They felt accomplished.”
As the project ended, the students wrote conclusions in their report. There were parts of the challenge that were difficult.
“Our hypothesis was correct,” the science report ends. “Everyone suffered caffeine withdrawals and sugar addictions. The first few weeks were difficult. … But toward the middle of the challenge the community got used to the new diet and began to thrive.”
The students wrote that they learned a lot about food and their health. The community is planning to do another food challenge in the fall of 2019, Gooden said.
The participants in 2017 valued the shared experience, he said.
“We were part of a community,” Gooden said. “We were part of a team. We were in this together.”
Photograph of a turnip harvest courtesy of Igiugig School
Students are going back to schools across Alaska this month, and a number of these schools are continuing programs that make healthy drinks, foods and physical activity more available to hundreds of children. To share those ideas that work, Play Every Day launched a new short Public Service Announcement (PSA) that highlights programs in two corners of Alaska: the North Slope Borough School District and Petersburg in Southeast Alaska.
Programs like these may work in other schools. Talk about these ideas with your school districts, PTAs, principals, and wellness committees to see if they could work in your communities and schools.
Creating soda-free schools
One way to help children grow up at a healthy weight is to cut back on serving them sugary drinks. Reducing added sugar can lead to many health benefits, including preventing type 2 diabetes, cavities, even heart disease. After years of support from students, families and athletic booster clubs, the North Slope Borough School District made a change that elementary and middle schools in the district would be soda-free schools. This means soda can't be sold at schools, and it also can't be provided to students for free or brought from home.
Making it easier for kids to drink water at school
Another way to help kids cut back on sugary drinks is to give them more access to drinking water. That's the change that Petersburg School District made in schools across the Southeast community.
In recent years, staff at the district noticed the schools’ water fountains were getting old. They spent years replacing all of them with fountains that could also fill water bottles. The district installed water bottle filling stations at the high school, middle school, and elementary school, as well as the community gym where the elementary students have physical education classes. Then district staff gave a water bottle to every student. In Petersburg, that included about 450 students in grades K-12. Students could fill up those water bottles throughout the day and drink from their bottles during class.
These are just two school districts that are making changes that can help children grow up at a healthy weight. Read more examples from across the state in the success stories shared online.
In today’s world, children are often “plugged in.” In a 2017 state survey, 58 percent of Alaska high school students reported that they spend three or more hours a day watching television, playing video games, or using a computer or electronic device for something other than school work. Actual face-to-face interaction is becoming less common, and Facebook and FaceTime more so. Taking children outside and to the parks, for long or short trips, can teach them the value of “unplugging” at a young age and positively affect their long-term physical and emotional well-being.
With the increased use of social media, television and video games, time in nature is becoming less common — so much so that author Richard Louv has coined the term “nature deficit disorder” and talks about this phenomenon in his book called “Last Child in the Woods.” In his first chapter, Louv writes “As one scientist puts it, we can now assume that just as children need good nutrition and adequate sleep, they may all very well need contact with nature.” It opens up a whole new world, he explains in his book, that children cannot get from time in front of their electronic device.
Matt and Erin Callahan live in Anchorage and both work full-time. They plan their life around getting their children outside on trips of all lengths, keeping these outings varied and incorporating physical activity and learning. Their family recently went to Cordova on the Alaska ferry with their son Liam, 9. Matt said they chose this form of transportation so they could stay outside and learn about the outdoors, including glaciers, whales, and porpoises.
“We prefer a slower pace and more education,” he said. In Cordova, they hiked Mt. Eyak as a family. Mt. Eyak is a ski hill in the winter and a popular hike for locals and visitors in the summer. It has a vertical rise of 2,500 feet, covers about 5 miles round trip, and takes two to three hours to hike.
Erin Callahan is a psychiatric nurse practitioner. When her son was born, she felt compelled to brush up on neurodevelopment and learn as much as possible about healthy brain development.
"Every article and book I read concluded the same thing and that was: Too much connectedness to screens and media is harmful to the developing brain as it undercuts thinking, creativity, physical activity and overall emotional well-being. I always felt this intuitively but reading it over and over really gave me the push I needed to set healthy limits around our kids’ screen time," she said.
To this day, her son does not get screen time during the week and his time is limited on the weekends and in the summer. Erin said that, as a couple, they explain the “why” when their son asks about his television and computer restrictions that his friends don’t have. They explain that his brain and body need outdoor time, time to problem-solve, think creatively and read to develop in a healthy way, and that screen time could limit that.
They have kept him active since he was a toddler, with gymnastics, soccer, swimming lessons, skiing and outdoor play with friends. He participates in a daily summer camp that prioritizes physical activity all day long. He still plays soccer, is taking a parkour gymnastics class that he loves and participates in a cross country skiing program in the winter.
“Luckily, I no longer have to look for the research on exercise and its positive effects on the brain,” Erin said.
“Every day I'm writing prescriptions for people to get out and exercise,” she said. “The side effects are fantastic!”
Alaska is filled with opportunities to play outside with your family. You can choose trails; local, state and national parks; and endless activities that can keep kids entertained and connecting with nature, often at no or low cost. National parks are easily accessible, and the Every Kid in the Park Program gives every fourth grader and their family a free national park pass for one year. Alaska has 123 state park units in nine regions, covering 3.3 million acres and endless recreational opportunities year-round.
Keeping kids active early on can make a huge difference in how they will prioritize activity later in life. It’s never too late to start. Plan a trip with your kids to a park. Ride bikes on a trail and pack a picnic for along the way. Help your kids build a fort in the backyard, encourage them to play outside and set some limits on screen time. Take time during the week to get out there and play.
Resources to learn more
American Academy of Pediatrics
Create your personalized family media use plan here.
Farmers markets are open in communities across Alaska, selling locally grown fresh fruits and vegetables. Many parents come to the markets with their children, and we’ve come up with a way to keep kids busy and learning about what’s growing in local farms. Bring our Farmers Market Bingo Card and make a game of trying to find three items in a row or all of the items on the card.
Farmers Markets are cropping up across Alaska and becoming a popular way to get fresh produce, support local farmers and provide a fun activity for the whole family to enjoy. Depending on the market, there are also activities for kids, petting zoos, music and locally made crafts and foods.
Kelly Gerlach lives in the Glennallen area. There is a Wednesday market in downtown Glennallen at a local business parking lot. You can find fresh produce from a local farm in Slana, baked goods from the area, as well as music and fun activities for the kids.
Kelly’s daughter Brynna, age 13, enjoys the local market.
“I love the market because of the fun crafts, the petting zoo and the independence I feel when I have my own money and can buy my own food,” she said.
The Anchorage and Mat-Su Borough have 26 farmers markets, including five throughout Anchorage, three in Eagle River and the remaining 18 in and around Palmer and Wasilla. If you live nearby, walking or biking to the market is a great option as many markets have bike racks. The Fairbanks area (including Delta Junction and North Pole) has 15 markets, the Kenai area has 13 and the following rural areas have local markets: Bethel, Dillingham, Glennallen, Southeast (Haines and Sitka), and Valdez.
The Mat-Su farms sell fresh produce, eggs and meats in Anchorage. The Center Market, located in the Sears Mall in Anchorage, is the only year-round market. It is open Wednesdays and Fridays from 10 a.m.–6 p.m. and Saturdays from 10 a.m. –4 p.m. The market has a wide variety of vendors that sell locally grown meats, vegetables, sprouts, spices, mushrooms and more.
Other markets may have only one vendor, but that vendor will have fresh vegetables, such as Dinkel’s Veggies at the Northway Mall in Anchorage. The Eagle River market at the VFW post is open on Tuesdays and has a handful of vendors with vegetables, pickled foods, jams, homemade crafts and a vendor that serves authentic Mexican food.
Families with lower incomes can purchase affordable fresh produce at the farmers markets. Low-income seniors and Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) participants can use a coupon for up to $30 at participating farmers markets in Anchorage, Fairbanks, Homer, Kenai, Kodiak, Dillingham and the Palmer and Wasilla areas. Visit the State of Alaska’s Division of Public Assistance for more information.
Most markets run from early June to the end of September, at varying days and times, and some end earlier or go even later into the year. Teach your kids healthy eating habits and support local farmers by visiting a market near you. Make it a fun learning experience by taking the Farmers Market Bingo card. Go online to find a farmers market near you.
Planting strawberries in towers, greens in a hydroponic system and carrots in a small swimming pool are just some of the fun activities kids are doing this summer through the Alaska Farm to Summer Meal Program.
Summers can be a challenging and hungry time for children. In Alaska, over half of students qualified for free or reduced lunches during the school year. When the school year comes to a close, these children typically lose access in the summer to the affordable or free meals. To address this, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Summer Food Service Program helps approved sites provide nutritious meals for free to children younger than 18.
The Farm to Summer Meal Program pairs up with these sites to promote healthy eating by growing their own fruits and vegetables or purchasing them from local farmers and farmers markets. This summer, seven school districts, childcare programs and a 4-H Club are connecting students, food service staff and teachers to healthy local foods and learning about the origins of their food.
A goal of the Farm to Summer Meal Program is to increase children’s preferences for fruits and vegetables by providing opportunities for hands-on learning for them to grow, harvest, purchase and prepare these healthy foods. The Bethel 4-H Club found kids usually “pass” on the peas during the after-school snack.
“After planting pea seeds, at least two kids requested peas, which had never happened before,” according to Sharon Chakuchin with the Bethel site.
The cool temperatures this summer slightly delayed planting, but they haven’t dampened the enthusiasm.
“Naturally, playing in the dirt was loved by all,” said Natalie Ray with Ray’s Child Care and Learning Center in Palmer. “We use organic dirt, and children use garden gloves and little shovels.”
This is the third year Loretta Fitting with the Alaska Gateway School District in Tok has participated in the Farm to Summer Meal Program.
“We love to garden. The kids are always ready to learn new things,” she said. “I am hoping to have them start their own gardens at home.”
The Alaska Division of Agriculture Farm to School Program and the Department of Education and Early Development Child Nutrition Programs initiated the Farm to Summer Meal Program in 2016. This summer, the Department of Health and Social Services, Obesity Prevention and Control Program provided funding for seven programs to participate.
Everyone can celebrate Alaska’s gardeners, farmers and local food during the 2018 Alaska Farm to Summer Week, July 23-27. Check out the Campaign Toolkit to find activities, recipes and where to find fresh, healthy Alaska Grown foods.