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Health Summit aims at fruit trees, fish in schools

SITKA, ALASKA
Lexi Fish told the audience that the summit’s goal of putting local seafood in schools has been partially achieved – in a pilot program. Blatchley Middle School students earlier this month dined on a “fishwich” made from locally-caught Yelloweye rockfish.

“It’s healthier. The kids are going to have better attention spans if they have this good, healthy source of protein at lunch. They’re going to learn better. It’s better for our local economy because it stimulates what we produce here. And it builds a future market of fish eaters, and keeps traditional sources alive. We import so much food that it’s better for our food security, and for our carbon footprint that we eat more local food.”

Blatchley students will see local seafood on the menu one Monday each month at first. Fish explained that her committee is working to create connections between local seafood producers and the schools, to gradually increase the availability of local product, and to offset its slightly higher cost.

The goal of the fruit tree group is to get 200 trees into the ground this year. Organizer Linda Wilson explained that there is more to the project than moving dirt. She said the summit will teach workshops to train people to maintain the trees once they are planted.

“Unlike berry bushes, fruit-bearing trees require some effort in location, planting (because we have poor soil which has to be amended) and they do require some pruning, some pest management, and some other things that huckleberry bushes don’t.”

Wilson said pollination is also a concern, since pollinators and blossoms must meet, which is not always easy in Sitka. Wilson said she’s importing some Mason bees to support her five trees at home. Not everyone will want to go to those lengths, however. Wilson said it’s enough to simply provide the group with a good site for a tree.

The third health summit goal might seem counterintuitive in an environment as inviting as Sitka, but summit organizer Doug Osborne said the Sitka Outdoor Recreation Coalition was trying to figure out how to get more people outside.

 “This group is looking at programs, and is especially interested in how to get young people out into the great outdoors for more physical activity, and maybe people that aren’t currently doing it. They’ve met several times, put together this website, they’ve put together this program survey and they have people filling it out online.”

The coalition’s website is getoutsitka.wordpress.com. The project mirrors similar efforts across the state to create more outdoor programming.

The fourth and final health summit goal will also create something – but no one’s quite sure what. Julia Smith told the chamber that the Choose Respect Mural Project was as much about process as art.

“We have no idea where this mural is going to be yet. How big it’s going to be, or who the artists or going to be. Most of our discussions have been around the process and how we’re going to engage youth, how we’re going to engage adults. What kind of art we’re going to use. How we’re going to get the community to discuss these issues, and find some positive solutions. So we’re really looking at creative approaches to finding innovative solutions.”

Smith said “Choose Respect” – whatever it turns out to be – will encourage dialogue around the issues of bullying and domestic violence. The project has already won $3,000 in seed funding from the Rural Alaska Community Action Program.

Wrapping up the presentation, Doug Osborne observed that much had been accomplished since the health summit set these four goals just last October. He asked chamber members to consider what Sitka would be like if every year it set three or four big goals – and achieved them. Referring to remarks from a former summit keynote address, Osborne said it made Sitka “the place to be… there is a creative class that doesn’t look for jobs – they look for the place, and then make the jobs.”
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