On October 24, all across the nation, people were participating in Food Day, a national celebration of affordable, healthy, and sustainable food. The Sitka Conservation Society joined with a Fish to Schools local coho salmon lunch at KGH, BMS, SHS, and PHS. SCS partnered with the Sitka School District’s Live Well Physical Activity and Nutrition Program to coordinate an after school program healthy snack activity with smoked salmon, kale, and local carrots.
We wanted to join the national effort to celebrate local foods building our community here in Sitka. We have the benefit of this subsistence lifestyle full of forest and beach greens, fish, and deer all of which are sustainable food system choices. At SCS we strive to support and build a sustainable community by implementing programs that initiate change such as Fish to Schools and the Sitka Food Hub. I challenge the community to start talking about food, where it comes from, and engage with friends and family to bring back our connection to the food with which we nourish our bodies.
I would like to thank Americorps Volunteer Lauren Havens and Ryan Kauffman with the Live Well program for all their work in this year’s Food Day in Sitka. Also thanks to Kristi Coltharp and the 21st Century Learning Program, the Sitka Local Food Network Fellowship Farm, and anyone else who helped to make this years Food Day in Sitka a success!
The “why” of Fish to Schools has had clear goals from the beginning: connecting students to their local food system, learning traditions, and understanding the impact of their food choices on the body, economy, and environment. The “how” has been a creative process. Serving locally is one component of the program, but equally important is our education program that makes the connections between stream, ocean, forest, food, and community.
We were back in the classroom this year offering our “Stream to Plate” curriculum that focuses on the human connection to fish. How are fish caught? Where do they come from? Why should we care? Who depends on them and how? What do I do with them? These are just a few of the questions we answer through a series of hands-on games and activities.
Students began by learning about the salmon lifecycle and its interconnection to other plants and animals. By building a salmon web, students saw that a number of species depend on salmon—everything from orcas, to brown bears, to people, to the tall trees of the Tongass. They learned how to manage a sustainable fishery by creating rules and regulations, allowing each user group (subsistence, sport, and commercial) to meet their needs while ensuring enough fish remain to reproduce. They learned that fish is an important local food source (and has been for time immemorial) but also important for our economy, providing a number of local jobs. (Read more here.)
Students also learned how to handle fish–how to catch fish both traditionally and commercially, how to gut and fillet fish, how to make a super secret salmon brine for smoked salmon, and how to cook salmon with Chef Collete Nelson of Ludvigs Bistro. Each step is another connection made and another reason to care.
The Stream to Plate Curriculum will be available through our website in early 2014. Check back for its release!
Photo Credit: Adam Taylor
Can you teach economics to kids? I wasn’t sure. I’ve been scratching my head at how to convey such an advanced topic to third graders. So what if money stays here or goes there? A dollar is a dollar to a kid and they are going to spend it on the next trendy thing, right? Probably, but Fish to Schools developed a lesson that teaches students that it does matter where money our goes.
We started with a game showing our connections to salmon. We have all seen salmon jumping in the ocean, swimming around the docks, fighting their way up Indian River, and returning to all the streams and rivers of the Tongass National Forest. We can’t ignore their smell in the late summer air and for those who have been fishing, we can’t get enough. It’s fun to catch and delicious to eat.
After showing that we are all connected to salmon in some way, we dove deeper into the idea that our jobs are connected to salmon (in fact dependent on). To show this we handed every student a card with a picture of a profession: troller, seiner, seafood processor, grocery store clerk, boat repair man, gear store, teacher, doctor, etc. Students gathered in a circle and passed around a ball of yarn forming a web between the different professions. They identified who depended on them or who they depended on for their livelihood. Once every student and profession was connected to the web, students could visually see that each job affects the other. While it may have been obvious to many students that a seafood processor depends on a fisherman (and vice versa) it was much more abstract to show the connection between a teacher and salmon. This game provided a visual and taught students that our Sitka community is tied to salmon, that a healthy economy is dependent on healthy salmon.
After the lesson, a student in one of our classes couldn’t figure out how her mom’s job was connected to salmon. She went home to learn that her mom does daycare and takes care of fishermen’s children when they are out on the water. A connection reinforced!
19% of adults aged 16+ are directly involved in the fisheries as a commercial fisherman or seafood processor. Many, many more professions are indirectly connected, their businesses dependent on seafood. (http://www.sitka.net/sitka/Seafood/Seafood.html)
Beneficially impacting our local economy and community is one benefit of eating locally-caught salmon. Through the Fish to Schools “Stream to Plate “curriculum unit, students learned many more reasons why local is better. Check back soon for blog posts on our other lessons.
The Jesuit Volunteer Corps (JVC) Northwest has placed volunteers in various organizations all over Sitka for nearly two decades, focusing on issues of social and ecological justice. This year, I joined the Sitka Conservation Society team as their first Jesuit Volunteer (JV). Many of the core values of the JVC Northwest program align closely with those of Sitka Conservation Society. Social and ecological justice are important aspects of the work I do at SCS and are crucial values in the JVC Northwest program. My position, Living with the Land & Building Community Jesuit Volunteer, works toward ecological and social justice in several capacities.
My involvement with the Fish to Schools program at SCS is one of many examples of these two organizations, JVC Northwest and SCS, working to achieve the same goal. Fish to Schools coordinates local salmon and rockfish to be served in five Sitka schools. This program promotes not only social justice by allowing students with free and reduced lunches–who may not always have a balanced diet– a chance to eat a healthy local meal at school, but also ecological justice as well. By supporting our local fishermen and teaching students about sustainable fishing, we are influencing students to work towards ecological justice. Aside from my projects, the Sitka Conservation Society has a myriad of programs that advocate and work for ecological justice. Programs like Stream Team, where 7th graders get to spend 3 days outside learning about restoration and proper land management, is only one example in a long list of programs that SCS has created to encourage ecological justice.
Another core value of the JVC Northwest program is community. I live with three other Jesuit Volunteers who are placed at other non-profit organizations in Sitka. We live together, share food, have meals as a community, and support one another. Helping to foster a sense of community continues from my home into my projects at SCS. I lead Alaska Way of Life 4H classes at SCS. One of my main goals is to create a sense of community within our groups. Before every class we play a game or do an activity that allows us to learn about one another. Having weekly classes allows 4H kids to get to know their peers and makes them feel more invested in the community that they are helping to build. After these community building activities, we get to learn and practice new skills together that teach kids how to live with the land. The Alaska Way of Life 4H program has taught kids everything from harvesting wild edibles to tracking.
I am currently working on a project with a third grade class at Keet Gooshi Heen called Conservation in the Classroom. Many aspects of my lessons tie in to the value of simple living from JVC Northwest. My lessons are focused on water conservation in the Tongass. Our projects always take a hands on approach with “project based learning”. The students have done everything from building water catchment systems out of recycled materials to making their own water filters. We do all of our projects of recycled materials to live more simply and sustainably.
Social and ecological justice, community, and simple living are three values that JVC Northwest and the Sitka Conservation Society share and both works towards. It’s been a great opportunity to be a part of SCS and see the parallels between the two organizations.
Over the last several weeks, Fish to Schools has been teaching 7th graders at Blatchley Middle School about salmon’s journey from the stream to our plates. The students learned about salmon management, gutting and filleting salmon, how local processors operate, how to smoke salmon, and more. After learning this process, the students had incredible things to say about the local fish lunches they eat at school. Listen and read what these insightful students said:
“I like it because it takes amazing, it’s fresh, and it comes from our local fishermen that spend time and
“I like it because it’s healthy and it’s nice that the fishermen do this for our school”
“It tastes really really good, and it’s a good chance for people to try new things”
“I eat it because it’s a way of saying thank you to the fishermen who catch the fish”
“Because it’s healthy and good for you, and you feel good after you eat it”
“It supports our economy and it tastes good”
Check out this great video prepared by our new JV Americorps, Courtney Bobsin, on the importance of Fish to Schools. We hope this inspires you to choose fish for lunch tomorrow, the first for the 2012-2013 school year!
“In Sitka we, as a community, have an outstanding opportunity to have a strong relationship with the food we eat. We touch fish with our hands and get to transform it into a meal to fuel our bodies, and that is something to be celebrated. Fish to Schools is a project that has been created to provide a healthy and local option to the school lunch menu and allow kids to explore all dimensions of their food: where does it comes from, what does it look like, and why is it so important. Students are able to go look at fishing boats, dissect a salmon, and learn how to prepare the food they catch.
It’s time to ask questions about where our food comes from. And it’s time to care about the answer. Kids will learn that the banana they ate for breakfast traveled thousands of miles to reach their doorstep and the lunch they ate at school came from Alaskan fisherman. Let’s cut the fish open. Let’s explore and investigate what we are putting in our bodies. Let’s treat our body well and see what comes of it.
Fish to schools encourages healthier foods by serving locally harvested fish every other Wednesday. We strive to teach kids about how the fish they are eating got from the stream to their plate and why we should care about the process because the origin of our food is too important to overlook. By fueling our body with good food, we are becoming healthier people who promote sustainable practices and protect our planet. So let’s celebrate our food and where it comes from! Let’s put that food into our body. And let’s be healthier and live more sustainably. We can change the way we see food.”
In partnership with Sitka Conservation Society and Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium (SEARHC).
Sitka Conservation Society staffers Natalia Povelite (Tongass salmon organizer), Ray Friedlander (Tongass forest organizer), and Courtney Bobsin (Jesuit Volunteer, Fish-to-Schools) discuss their respective projects, and why they chose to work in Sitka.
The Sitka Conservation Society’s Fish to School Program has nearly completed its first full school year with raving reviews, community support, and strong partnerships. These local fish lunches are served as a hot lunch option through the school lunch program. Lunches are available to all students, totaling about 700 students with about half of those students consistently eating hot lunch.
In just one year we have seen local fish lunch consumption rates almost double at Blatchley Middle School (BMS), at an average of about 39%. I remember a lunch at BMS where a student tempted her friend to try the fish fillet. She was very skeptical but after trying it couldn’t get enough and began to feed her other friends! Check out this video on Fish to Schools at BMS by local filmmaker Hannah Guggenheim.
At Keet Gooshi Heen Elementary (KGH), where fish was introduced this fall, we are seeing rates of about 30% participation, with a few lunches peaking above 40%. Students consistently rave about the local fish lunches. One elementary school student at a recent lunch said, “I don’t like the fish lunches, I love them!” Other students tell me that they always get fish when it’s on the menu even though they generally pack lunches from home.
This spring we were delighted to collaborate with two new schools, Pacific High School (PHS) and Mount Edgecumbe High School (MEHS). PHS has a unique school lunch program with students serving as cooks for their classmates while learning commercial kitchen skills that lead to a job-ready Food Handlers Certification. In this program, they prepare unique dishes, including Caribbean rockfish with sweet potato fries, rockfish marinara, and crispy-baked rockfish.
MEHS finished off the school year with their first fish lunch after a year-long, grassroots student campaign to get local fish into their school. Student organizers from the Alaska Youth for Environmental Action (AYEA) Club led the charge by raising awareness about the environmental benefits of eating locally-harvested fish and polled students to see if they wanted to see fish at their school. 90% of students said, “Absolutely, yes!” Their efforts culminated in mouthwatering fish tacos this April.
Education programs were integrated into the third and seventh grade classes along with fish lunches. Students followed the cycles of fish from their native habitat to their lunch tray by interviewing local fishermen, hearing stories from Alaska Natives, dissecting and filleting salmon, and preparing tasty dishes with a local chef. Cultural knowledge, nutrition, and food systems were woven throughout the program. Local fish lunches paired with the Stream to Plate Curriculum brings students closer to their culture and the backbone of Sitka. Serving students local fish and exposing them to the fishing culture, connects them to their home and develops a sense of pride for being a part of a community that supports itself on the best (tasting and managed) seafood in the world.
The Sitka Fish to Schools program was awarded the Best Farm to School Project in Alaska for the 2011-2012 school year. It is a community-wide honor, recognizing all of the stakeholders involved in the program: food service, local seafood processors, fishermen, school district, principals, teachers, and community volunteers. Alaska’s First Lady, Sandy Parnell, came to a local fish lunch to recognize our local efforts in Sitka. We are thrilled that she personally came to show her support for our creative use of local foods in the school lunch program. We hope her interest will continue to increase the profile of this program and that we will see continued support for these efforts statewide.
The Sitka Conservation Society hopes that this program will create closer connections between our community and the natural resources from the environment around us. Through its implementation, youth and stakeholders will gain an increased understanding of how we use and depend on the land and waters of the Tongass. With the fish on our plates at home and at school, we will, as a community, make better decisions on the management and future of those resources that we intimately depend on. Further, we hope that this program will influence the USDA, and the policy makers who direct it, to focus on a more sustainable school lunch food system by using local sources for food. And, importantly, our school districts will teach children about local natural resources and the jobs and livelihoods in our community by using hands-on, real-world learning experiences.
When people from the lower 48 think of Alaska, images of the Deadliest Catch, the debate around drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and the open tundra of the north often come to mind. But, there is a lot more to Alaska.
Despite the long winters and short summers Alaska is joining the nation’s growing farm to school movement. There are only a few farm to school programs in the Last Frontier recognized by the Alaska Farm to School Program. One of those programs is Fish to School.
Sitka’s Fish to School program is coordinated by the Sitka conservation Society, but it relies on the entire community to make it happen. It is a stellar program that interweaves a stream to plate curriculum, hands-on learning, tours of local processors and fish options on the cafeteria menus. This is the second year running and it is getting better with age. Even Alaska’s First Lady Parnell had a Fish to School lunch with the students on April 11th.
The Alaska Farm to School Program also thinks it is an A-plus project. On April 25th, SCS’s Fish to School program will be honored with the award of best farm to school program in Alaska for the 2011-2012 school year. Johanna Heron from the state’s Department of Natural Resources will present the award during a special Benefit dinner that will raise funds to cover the cost of next year’s school fish lunches.
The Benefit dinner will be prepared by Chef Colette Nelson, proprietor of Ludvig’s Bistro, and Pacific High School students. Chef Nelson, has been creating recipes for students at Pacific High School throughout the winter. Students rotate the responsibility of preparing lunch for the rest of the small alternative school as part of their food handler’s license job training. And then, they voted on their favorite recipe.
Crispy Oven Baked Rockfish won overwhelmingly. That entrée will be featured at the Benefit dinner and will be a model for future school lunches. The menu also includes salad with Alaska grown beets, sweet potato fries, blackened broccoli, home made bread, and carrot cake with Alaska grown carrots.
This is a community wide award ceremony and Benefit. Sitka proves that it defiantly takes a village to feed local, healthy seafood to the children and teach them about the wonders of fishing. Volunteer coordinators, the school food management service, fishermen, Tlingit elders all make the Fish to School program the best in Alaska, and possibly the best in the nation.
If you are in Sitka on April 25th, Sitka Conservation Society invites you to celebrate Fish to Schools. Eat some fish, support this local initiative, have fun, and help keep local fish in the schools! It will take place at Sweetland Hall on the historic Sheldon Jackson Campus. Doors open at 5:30pm and dinner begins at 6:00pm. Pricing structure: $20.00 adults, $15 seniors/students, and $5.00 for children. Tickets are available at Old Harbor Books.
The Sitka Conservation Society strives to blend sustainable community development with policy advocacy through projects and initiatives that demonstrate our ideals while building community and community assets. Along the way, we organize stakeholders to work together with a commonly shared vision. The ideal projects are those that bring people together working face-to-face/shoulder-to-shoulder to jointly and collaboratively build our community under a vision of sustainability. If we are not working with new and different partners, if we are not working toward institutionalizing our values within existing agencies, or if we are simply working within one closed group, we are not successful.
The Fish to Schools program is accomplishing all of the above as it organizes fishermen, integrates traditional Native cultural values around locally harvested fish in the school classrooms, teaches youth about fishing livelihoods and fisheries management by bringing community members into the classroom, and, above all, improves the school lunch program by finding creative and economically sustainable pathways to integrate locally produced food into the USDA school lunch program. The program works with all the schools in the local school districts, all the major fish processors, multiple fishermen, parents, youths, USDA staff, State of Alaska agency staff, and many more. Recently we won a statewide award which received national attention in the USDA Farm-to-Schools program.
Our hope is that this program will create closer connections between our community and the natural resources from the environment around us. Through its implementation, youth and stakeholders will gain an increased understanding of how we use and depend on the land and waters of the Tongass. With the fish on our plates at home and at school, we will, as a community, make better decisions on the management and future of those resources that we intimately depend on. Our hope is that in its actions the USDA, and the policy makers who direct it, will choose to focus on a more sustainable school lunch food system by using local sources for food. And, importantly, our school districts will teach children about local natural resources and the jobs and livelihoods in our community by using hands-on, real-world learning experiences.
In this way, SCS is working to build a socially, economically, and environmentally sustainable community living within the splendor and beauty of the Tongass.