Parnell proposes Alaska Grown school lunch funding

Alaska halibut and salmon were on the menu in Juneau schools this fall, thanks to current year Alaska Grown funding. Photo by Heather Bryant.

Gov. Sean Parnell’s proposed fiscal year 2014 operating budget would continue funding to put Alaska Grown foods on school lunch menus.

The $3 million “Nutritional Alaskan Foods in Schools” program is available to all 54 school districts this year. The grant reimburses participating districts that buy Alaska fish, produce and even honey.

Scott Ruby directs the program in the state Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development. He says it helps Alaska become more self-sufficient.

“It’s called food security where we can provide our own and not be reliant on shipping in food from outside,” Ruby said. “It’s a good deal.”

Ruby says the Department of Natural Resources’ Farm to Schools program helps connect schools with suppliers.

 “I think that’s been one of the larger benefits of this is that there were products available out there at reasonable costs that the school districts didn’t know were available,” he says.

Juneau School District Food Services Supervisor Adrianne Schwartz says the cost of a meal is the same for students whether they choose local halibut or pizza.

“The issue is that to maintain a meal price that’s affordable for everybody,” Schwartz says. “The majority of the local produce and fish would be too expensive without this funding.”

The Juneau School District received $86,000 for the current year and has served salmon and halibut from Southeast waters as well as fresh produce from the Matanuska-Susitna region.

The governor’s proposal to fund the program next year would allow Juneau and other districts to expand the menu and serve more local foods on a regular basis.