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Keeping Alaska food in Alaska kids' school lunches

Suzanna Caldwell

Alaska schools could continue to get plenty of locally grown food in their meals, thanks to Gov. Sean Parnell.

Parnell's proposed fiscal year 2014 operating budget, announced earlier this month, includes $3 million for the Nutritional Alaskan Food in Schools program. The program is available to all 54 Alaska school districts and reimburses districts that buy Alaska fish, produce or even honey for school lunches.

Scott Ruby, program director with the state department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development, told KTOO that not only does the program connect schools with local suppliers, but it helps Alaska become more self-sufficient.

However, the costs of using locally grown foods can be markedly higher than using outside products. Juneau School District Food Services Supervisor Adrianne Schwartz told KTOO that without the program, the school district would be unable to afford the local food.

The program was welcomed with overwhelming praise this year. Districts from Unalaska to Juneau heralded the financial assistance   -- using it to serve everything from halibut to bison in Alaska school lunches. That, coupled with new U.S. Department of Agriculture regulations that limit portion size and increase serving recommendations on fruits and vegetables, helped to changed the face of Alaska student lunches.

But there were questions over whether the program would continue. Creator of the one-time grant, Rep. Bill Stolze, R-Chugiak, came up with the idea after he faced criticism for refusing to supplement the federal school-meal program. The criticism included a hunger strike by an Anchorage child hunger advocate.

KTOO reports that the new funding will allow Juneau -- which received $86,000 for the current school year -- and other school districts expand their lunch menus.

Read much more from KTOO here.

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