It's amazing to see how far Fish to Schools has spread. Sitka wasn't the first community to serve local fish in schools , but we put the program on the map. By telling our story, advocating for policy change, and sharing resources we've been able to support Fish to Schools efforts across the state. And it's happening! Alaskan fish is now served in nearly every school district in Alaska.
I just finished up a few visits to four Southeast Communities: Kake, Hoonah, Hydaburg, and Kasaan. I was working with the Sustainable Southeast Partnership to check out what's happening in each community and connect them to resources to strengthen their programs.
I started in Kasaan on Prince of Whales Island (POW). It's a tiny village of about 60 people with a traditional schoolhouse and 10 kids. They started serving Alaskan fish in 2013 but it comes from the Anchorage area. Kasaan is surrounded by water and subsistence is a way-of-life—finding local fish isn't the problem. But as it stands only commercial fish can enter a school meal program, so we're looking at how we can circumnavigate that and support the fishermen who live on POW.
Next was Hydaburg, a village of about 400 people and 50 students. They have a similar story, Alaskan fish is offered but it comes from up north. They have commercial fishermen but the closest place they can deliver is in Craig. There are a few logistical challenges to get local fish in Hydaburg schools, but the interest is there to make it possible.
Then I was in Kake, with about 550 people and 110 students. They have been serving fish from Wasilla but have a local seafood processor in town. The processor up north portions and packages fish in a way that makes it easy for the school—but it doesn't support the local fishermen or processor right in town. It's convenient yes, and that's important; schools just don't have enough staff in the kitchen to cook foods from scratch. While the local seafood processor can't match the level of processing they are currently used to, they are willing to do some minimal, custom processing for the school so Kake can serve Kake fish next year!
I finished my round of visits in Hoonah, where a strong program already exists. This town of about 750 residents and 100 students, has seen local halibut in schools since 2012. They serve salmon as well but also source it from up north. They are willing to give local salmon a shot next year and hope the pin bones won't be a big (time) issue.
All four districts I visited have been purchasing local seafood through the Nutritional Alaskan Foods for Schools grant. It's created an incentive to purchase local and also offsets the high food costs for small, remote communities. Kasaan, Hydaburg, and Kake all specifically spoke to the economic importance of purchasing locally for their communities.
Every district also seemed open, even enthusiastic, to the Stream to Plate curriculum. Principals and superintendents were excited to pass it along to a few of their teachers, who could implement and adapt the lessons to their classroom and community. Teaching students the backstory to the fish on their plate will empower them to make food choices that extend beyond taste. These children are our future fishermen, seafood processors, entrepreneurs, resource managers, and consumers of Alaskan seafood.
All in all, the response was positive and I'm excited to see what happens. Each community has an active community catalyst through the Sustainable Southeast Partnership to follow through on Fish to Schools goals. I'm here on standby as they make small and significant changes.