Located in interior Alaska, the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District serves daily lunches for over 5,000 of its 14,300 students.1 The district includes 35 public, charter, magnet, and specialized schools that range in size from a rural elementary school of fewer than 100 students to a high school of 1,200 students.
Fairbanks’ efforts to incorporate Alaska Grown foods into its meal program is part of an extensive Farm to School movement in Alaska.
The state Legislature passed legislation to formally create the Alaska Farm to School program in 2010.2 This included the appropriation of $3 million to the Nutritional Alaskan Foods in Schools pilot program both in Fiscal Years 2013 and 2014. The funding provides reimbursements3 to individual school districts for the procurement of a wide variety of Alaska Grown and raised products including finfish, shellfish, livestock, milk, fruits, vegetables, native produce and berries that are commercially harvested, poultry and grains. The Fairbanks North Star Borough School District was allocated approximately $208,000 of this funding each year.
Two state agencies play key roles in facilitating the procurement and use of local food products in the state’s public schools. The Alaska Division of Agriculture within the Department of Natural Resources runs the Alaska Farm to School program. The Department of Commerce, Community, and Economic Development and the Division of Community and Regional Affairs (DCCED, DCRA) administers the Nutritional Alaskan Foods in Schools program (NAFS).
From the outset of the program, the state Farm to School coordinator worked to connect potential vendors and school partners through tours of local farms and school kitchens. These have proven very instrumental in giving vendors and foodservice staff the opportunity to build relationships and understand each other’s capabilities. The program has also tailored recipe development for districts with kitchens of different sizes and capabilities4 and generated a variety of promotional materials5. During the 2011-2012 school year, the Alaska Grown products most procured statewide in terms of value were seafood, carrots, beef, lettuce and pork.