FOOD FOR THOUGHT As I look back I smile at the memory and the expression of enjoyment on the faces of the young students and their raised hands as I asked if they wished for more. They wanted more vegetables, more dishes created with vegetables and to grow more vegetables. I am a teachers aide at our local K-12 rural school, a parent of three and an active volunteer in our community. A few years ago I was hired as a community food coordinator. Our school is situated in an agricultural area of Alaska. After consulting with school staff and farmers, we realized we could create something special. Together we developed a “Meet the Farmer program,” an activity in which local farmers and gardeners visited our elementary classrooms. They were creative and enthusiastic. Our children sampled locally grown raw garden and root vegetables, pumpkin turnip soup, chocolate beet muffins, apple beet juice, and honey. Each farmer taught the children about gardening, producing your own food, and often introduced their palates to unknowns.
TEACH A MAN TO FISH… BETTER YET , TEACH A CHILD TO GARDEN Come spring we built on what existed and what we had learned. We picked up a program started by now retired teachers and started plants from seed in the classroom. We repaired broken down garden beds on our school grounds and planted carrots and potatoes. The following fall, these were harvested by our students and shared with the entire school. The children could not get enough. Some children had no exposure to farming and gardening. I loved being part of a program that had kids digging in the dirt, connecting with local producers, and promoting healthy eating. I gauged the programs success by the continued interest of students and volunteers.
INSPIRATION FOR OUR MISSION Our mission was to promote locally grown produce, strengthen our rural community, and provide healthy suggestions for our families. In researching nutritious educational material and programs, I found a wealth of information from Alaska Cooperative Extension Service, Alaska’s Farm to School Program, and USDA’s Know Your Farmer Tool and Farm to School Program. These examples were the inspiration for the program started here in Kenny Lake. We could not have made this happen without the support from our local groups; Copper Valley Development Association, Soil and Water Conservation District, Farm Bureau, 4-H, Wrangell Institute for Science and Environment and the parents, staff and community members of our Copper River School District.
I am taking this Alaska Master Gardener Online Course to gain knowledge to share with our students, to continue growing with our children as the program grows.