Local News

Sitka guidebook charts course for Fish-to-Schools programs

According to SCS, participation in school lunch at Keet Gooshi Heen increases on days when local fish is served.

According to SCS, participation in school lunch at Keet Gooshi Heen increases on days when local fish is served.

Sitka’s Fish-to-Schools program will be easier to reproduce in other communities, thanks to a new handbook from the Sitka Conservation Society.

A Guide to Serving Local Fish in School Cafeterias was published online last week (3-14-14) by the Society. It contains everything someone needs to know to navigate the sometimes-choppy waters to get locally-caught seafood onto public school menus.


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At 6:30 this evening (Thu 3-20-14) in the Blatchley Middle School library, Tracy Gagnon, school board president Lon Garrison, and Sitka Local Foods Network director Lisa Sadleir-Hart will give a presentation on efforts to establish a statewide Fish-to-Schools program.

Tracy Gagnon coordinates the Fish-to-Schools program for the Sitka Conservation Society. She’s had to do some pioneering work to get seafood harvested and processed in Sitka, into schools located just a block or two away.

Fish-to-Schools is about creating a network, and it will be a little different in every town. Among other things, the resource guide is about…

“How to access fish, what DEC standards need to be followed to ensure the products is safe for use in schools, and just some good stories about how to make it go in your community.”

The DEC is the state Department of Environmental Conservation, an agency which looms large over the management of institutional food practices in Alaska. Sections on “Procurement and Processing Strategies” and “Legalities: What’s allowed” take up about a quarter of the 26-page manual.

Fish-to-Schools program emerged out of the Community Health Summit in 2010. It’s not the first such program in the state, but it might be the most comprehensive. Fish-to-Schools has helped put seafood on the plates of most Sitka students twice a month. Only Baranof Elementary, which lacks a kitchen on-site, is not included in the program. Students at Pacific High — Sitka’s alternative school — prepare their own fish lunches once a week.

But the guide is not just a how-to. It’s also a “why.” There are 6 student lesson plans in the guide called “Stream to Plate.”

“I’ve been working on these lessons for the last three years with our Keet Gooshi Heen third graders, actually. So it’s been really fun to work on them, develop them, refine them over the years. So the lessons are geared for elementary school, but they can be adapted up or down for the grade level.”

Both the Sitka School District and Mt. Edgecumbe have participated in a state reimbursement program for locally-sourced food called “Nutritional Alaskan Food for Schools.” Last year, the program kicked in nearly $80,000 for the purchase of local seafood in Sitka.

The Sitka School board earlier this year passed a resolution in support of continued funding for Nutritional Alaskan Food for Schools. The governor has budgeted $3-million for the project — but only for one year.

Locally, Fish-to-Schools has relied heavily on donated seafood. Gagnon believes a funding model will be important to the future of the program, and an economic boon to the seafood industry.

“I think the biggest thing is really trying to figure out a sustainable way to source seafood for the schools. And one way is encouraging the district to purchase it and make it a priority. And hopefully with this increased demand by students, they’ll make this an important thing to budget for.”

And to help with demand, the Fish-to-Schools resource guide has one other component: a mouth-watering recipe for teriyaki salmon.

KCAW’s Melissa Marconi-Wentzel contributed to this story.

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