It’s National Farm to School Month, and a high school in Sitka is celebrating by serving locally grown food to its students. Not only did they get to eat the fresh fare, they also gathered and prepared it themselves.
“We cook lunch,” says 18-year-old Erin Coykendall, who is taking a culinary class at Pacific High. “The entire class cooks lunch for the whole school.”
In honor of National Farm to School Month, the class made a meal using local ingredients.
Co-principal Sarah Ferrency helped choose the menu. “Coho salmon with a lemon swirl and dill pesto served on a bed of kale…”
Wait a second. Teenagers eat kale? And they like it?
“Everybody thinks it’s impossible to make children eat fruits and vegetables,” says Ferrency, “but it’s not.”
All it takes, she says, is being more involved with the food we eat.
“They need to have some personal investment in it, you know, and I really felt like the students who went and picked the vegetables had personal investment in those vegetables…”
Erin agrees. “We got to go out there and like, dig through the potato bins to find the potatoes and pull up carrots and stuff.”
Sitka Conservation Society’s Fish to Schools program provided the salmon and students got the vegetables from Down-to-Earth U-Pick Garden. The meal also included mashed potatoes, a barley biscuit and blueberry apple crisp.
“That was sort of as close as we could get for the local for the fruit,” says Ferrency. “The apples are from Washington and the blueberries were locally picked.”
It might sound easy, but Ferrency says it’s actually pretty tough to eat food grown in Sitka.
“It just takes a lot of effort to grow stuff here. It doesn’t just spring up here like it does in California or other warmer places. We have so much rain and ultimately, so little sun, like this summer when it just rained all summer long. Sometimes stuff just doesn’t grow.”
Erin says that although she hasn’t always enjoyed cooking, the culinary class has shown her it can be fun.
“I like chopping up vegetables,” she said. “Something about dicing vegetables is therapeutic or something.”
It can also be useful.
“In order to cook in the kitchen, we all had to get our food handler’s card,” said Coykendall. “It’s a great thing to have. It’s like a computer literacy class. You’re just that much more desirable in the work world. My dad’s like, ‘you gotta get a job kid,’ so I gotta get a job.”
Paulette James, a junior at Pacific High, says she can taste the difference from a typical school lunch.
“Here, I feel like we definitely have top-notch food,” said James. “We’re not just eating burgers that were thrown on the fryer. You can definitely tell the difference in the food that it’s being prepared with love.”