Contributed by Jennifer Castro, Alaska Grown
School may almost be out for the summer, but there are some exciting agricultural projects happening with the 2017 Farm to Summer Meal Site program in Alaska. The program provides subgrants to Alaska schools and childcare sites that participate in one of the federal USDA Child Nutrition Programs.
This year, nearly $37,000 will be distributed between 29 school and daycare sites, and 43 family childcare provider homes across 13 communities in Alaska. The funds can be used in a variety of ways including: to create or expand institution gardens, to procure local produce or seafood, to integrate garden-based and healthy eating curriculum into summer programs, to take field trips to local farms or farmers markets and to purchase food-related equipment for recipe development using fresh produce or local fish.
The Farm to Summer Meal Site program focuses on three main principles: education, procurement and gardens. The goal of the program is to enhance the eating and educational environments of these sites, increase children’s acceptance of fresh produce and local fish, and increase awareness of the importance of a healthy diet and physical activity.
Through growing, harvesting and/or cooking local foods, the program also helps introduce children to their local food system. Grant funding for the summer meal sites is provided by the USDA, Food and Nutrition Services, Team Nutrition Grant Program in partnership with the Child Nutrition Program from the Department of Education.
For the upcoming 2017 summer, Alaska Farm to Summer Meal subgrant recipient sites are planning exciting ways to engage the children and youth in their programs. There is a mixture of sites that have never grown anything at their locations and sites that are expanding their established gardens or procurement practices.
Schools and childcare sites are integrating hydroponic systems, indoor gardening, raised garden beds, container gardening and season extension methods to expose students to the variety of ways to grow food. Some of the sites will also be integrating interactive projects into their summer programs such as beekeeping, food preservation, fish processing and bread making. Other sites have planned for their students to visit farms and farmers’ markets throughout the summer.
By enhancing the connection communities have with local food producers in Alaska, students and families are empowered to make informed food choices while supporting the local economy, specifically through the Alaska agriculture and fishing industries. The Division of Agriculture is excited to see how these summer meal site projects turn out, and we will provide an update on them at the end of the summer.