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October 09
State’s Healthy Drinks for Healthy Kids project shares new educational videos, posters, and materials

Water closeup for blog 100917.PNGIt’s just one sugary drink for your child. That can’t be so bad, right?

But week after week, year after year, the effects of all that sugar add up.

Sugary drinks can lead to type 2 diabetes. They can destroy your children’s teeth.

These are the opening lines of a new educational video that is being shared with parents across Alaska this fall to motivate families to drink fewer sugary drinks for the best health. This video and other educational materials are part of a new partnership between Alaska Department of Health and Social Services program directors working on obesity prevention and dental health. These programs have a similar goal: reduce sugary drink consumption among Alaska families to improve the health of their entire bodies from their mouths to their waistlines to the health of their hearts and blood vessels. Sugary drinks include sweetened fruit-flavored drinks, powdered mixes, sports and energy drinks, sweetened coffees and teas, vitamin drinks, and soda.

This two-year pilot Healthy Drinks for Healthy Kids project is being funded by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to improve dental health and prevent obesity and other chronic diseases in Alaska. The pilot is supported by the Alaska Dental Society and dental providers across the state. In Alaska, about 1 out of 3 children is overweight or obese. About 2 out of 3 adults are overweight or obese. During the 2010-11 school year, dentists under contract with the Alaska Oral Health Program examined the teeth of young children in Alaska and found 41% of kindergartners had a filling or an untreated cavity on at least one tooth at the time of the screening. Rates of past or present cavities were even higher in third-graders, with 62% of students having past or present decay on at least one tooth at the time of the screening.

Reducing sugary drink consumption can help Alaskans improve their health, given that many Alaskans drink too many sugary beverages and they’re drinking them every single day. Just one sugary drink such as one 20-ounce bottle of soda with 16 teaspoons of sugar has more added sugar than people should have in one day based on the added sugar limits in the U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

• About 23% of Alaska adults and 42% of Alaska high school students drink one of more sodas or sugary drinks every day (2015 BRFSS, 2015 YRBS)
• One out of 5 Alaska parents of elementary-age children serves their children a sugary drink every day, and two out of three parents serve their kids sugary drinks one or more times each week. (2014 Play Every Day Statewide Telephone Survey)

Beginning this month, Alaskans will see new public education materials focused on reducing sugary drink consumption. They will see two public service announcements airing on television and online. One video announcement shows how cutting back on sugary drinks can help prevent serious health problems, including tooth decay and type 2 diabetes. The other video shows parents switching out unhealthy food items for healthier options at meals, but stresses that parents would be doing more to protect their children’s health if they also stopped serving them sugary drinks and served water or low-fat milk instead. Parents and their children also will see educational posters hanging in hundreds of schools across Alaska, as well as in public health centers, medical and dental clinics, and in Women, Infants, and Children offices. Alaskans will find related videos and educational posts on social media.

The Healthy Drinks for Healthy Kids project will include a special guide to help dentists and dental hygienists have a brief conversation with young Alaska children and their parents during routine dental exams about the health harms of sugary drinks. The guide will help dental providers ask their patients about sugary drinks, advise patients to reduce consumption, and assist these patients in coming up with a plan to reduce the sugary drinks in their diets and replace them with water and milk.

To learn more about this partnership, visit the Healthy Drinks for Healthy Kids project or contact playeveryday@alaska.gov.

September 19
Alaska school districts update school wellness policies to meet new regulations

Nick Hanson photo for Mat-Su Policy blog.jpgHealthy students learn better. Multiple studies show that school districts can achieve better overall test scores, grades, and attendance rates by helping students stay healthy by eating nutritious foods and being physically active.

One way to improve the health of Alaska students is helping school districts pass and implement a strong school wellness policy (also known as a student nutrition and physical activity policy). Evidence of the importance of a strong school wellness policy is so clear that the federal government has mandated that every school district receiving funds for school breakfast or lunch has a current policy.
 
Alaska School Districts Putting Policy into Action
The Mat-Su Borough School District is one district that recently approved a new wellness policy that limits the sale and marketing of sugary drinks and junk foods in schools, while increasing support for physical activity and physical education.
 
The Mat-Su district updated its wellness policy at the June 7, 2017, school board meeting. District wellness team member Jana DePriest was enthusiastic about the new policy.
 
“We want our students to be healthy and have every advantage to achieve their potential,” DePriest said. “This policy update is in line with efforts we’ve been working on in the district for years, from our 2015 health education curriculum update, our efforts to increase healthy options in school stores, and our partnership with the Mat-Su Health Foundation for mini-grants to increase physical activity in schools.” 
 
Mat-Su and other school districts across Alaska are putting their wellness policies into action. A few successes of Alaska school districts have been highlighted in the Play Every Day blog posts below:
 
Now is the time to help Alaska schools update their wellness policies
While most districts have a school wellness policy in place, new state and federal regulations mean most Alaska districts need to update their wellness policies. New regulations from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) went into effect June 30, 2017. Rather than just requiring districts to have a wellness policy on the books, the USDA now requires districts to report on wellness policy implementation, and gives additional guidance on involving the community in developing and updating these policies. Since 2014, the USDA Smart Snacks nutrition standards specifically require that snacks and beverages sold in vending machines, school stores, snack carts, á la carte lines and fundraising efforts during the school day are nutritious and promote health. The USDA also now restricts marketing and advertising on school grounds using the same standards. If a food or beverage does not meet the Smart Snacks standards, it cannot be marketed or advertised at school. You can test your knowledge on changes to the USDA wellness policy guidelines with this six-question short quiz.
 
A new law in Alaska also impacts wellness policies. Alaska’s Physical Activity in Schools Law (click here for full text and more information) went into effect October 16, 2016. All schools must establish guidelines to provide opportunities for nearly an hour of physical activity for students in grades K-8 during each full school day. Districts across the state are making creative changes to ensure that students are up and moving through physical education, recess, and in-classroom activities. 
 
You can get involved to make your district a success story, too. Alaska’s Obesity Prevention and Control Program joined the Alaska Department of Education & Early Development Child Nutrition Program to develop a Gold Standard School Wellness policy that meets all state and federal requirements. A similar update to the Association of Alaska School Boards (AASB) model wellness policy (BP 5040 ‘Student Nutrition and Physical Activity’) was shared with AASB subscribing districts in April 2017.  Check out this site for more information about Alaska School Wellness policies and Be a School Wellness Champion.
 
For more information about school wellness policies, contact Lauren Kelsey, Obesity Prevention School Partnership Coordinator, at lauren.kelsey@alaska.gov.
 
Photograph caption:  Nick Hanson, an American Ninja Warrior contestant from Unalakleet, visits Meadow Lakes Elementary in the Mat-Su Borough School District in 2017 to help students try some of his obstacles and teach them about the large amount of sugar hiding in sugary drinks.
September 05
Thousands of kids to join running Jamborees in Anchorage, the Mat-Su Valley, and Fairbanks

H2O2GO_Sideview.JPGThousands of young children from Anchorage to the Mat-Su Valley to Fairbanks will be racing along trails this September during the annual Cross Country Running Jamborees and similar fun runs.

The Anchorage School District is organizing three Running Jamborees, the North Star Borough School District in Fairbanks is organizing several races, and the Mat-Su Borough School District is scheduling one running event. 

The annual fall running events for children have a long history in Alaska. The Anchorage elementary school running events started almost 30 years ago and have expanded over the years to include multiple Jamborees throughout the city, said Melanie Sutton, curriculum coordinator for ASD’s Health and Physical Education Department. This fall, there are three, free running Jamborees in the North Anchorage area, South Anchorage area, and Beach Lake area. Many Anchorage schools help their students get ready for the fun runs by organizing after-school running clubs.
 
The ASD Health and Physical Education (PE) Department partners with the Healthy Futures program, Play Every Day, local athletes and Olympians, and others to organize the Anchorage Jamborees that will attract about 5,000 Anchorage kids across the city. Elementary students will run different distances, depending on their ages. The race course length ranges from about ½ mile to 1 mile. All kids will receive medals when they reach the finish line.
 
New this year for participants and attendees will be a special water trailer from Anchorage Water & Wastewater Utility (AWWU). Play Every Day and the staff operating the utility’s “H2O 2GO water trailer” will work together to help participants quench their thirst before and after racing. The H2O 2GO trailer is equipped with multiple drinking fountains and water bottle fill-up taps for thirsty runners and observers.
 
“Anchorage Water & Wastewater Utility is responsible for providing our community with a healthy and reliable drinking water supply,” said Chris Kosinski, AWWU public affairs. “The Utility’s H2O 2GO water station gives students, parents and family members a fun, easy way to stay hydrated at the Jamborees.”
 
Here are the dates, times and locations for the upcoming Anchorage Cross Country Running Jamborees:
 
North Anchorage Jamboree — Wednesday, Sept. 20, starting at 5:30 p.m., with an optional walk-through of the race course beginning at 5:00 p.m. The Jamboree will be held at the trails near Bartlett High School.
 
The ASD teachers coordinating the North Jamboree are Ben Elbow and Jill Singleton, both Rogers Park PE teachers.
 
South Anchorage Jamboree — Saturday, Sept. 23, starting at 10 a.m., with an optional walk-through of the race course beginning at 9:30 a.m. The Jamboree will be held at the trails near Service High School.
 
The ASD teachers coordinating the South Jamboree are Michel Woods, Abbott Loop PE teacher, and Nick Leiser, Trailside PE teacher.
 
Beach Lake (Eagle River) Jamboree — Thursday, Sept. 28, starting at 5:30 p.m., with an optional walk-through of the race course beginning at 5 p.m. The Jamboree will be held at the Chugiak High School soccer fields and trails.
 
The ASD teachers coordinating the Beach Lake Jamboree are Caela Nielsen, Ravenwood PE teacher, and Chris Ruggles, Eagle River Elementary PE teacher.
 
Parents are encouraged to pre-register their children for the Anchorage Jamborees at their schools. All children must have a signed waiver before participating in the event. Ask your child’s physical education teacher for more information about the Anchorage Jamboree in your area.
 
Here are the dates, times and locations for the upcoming running events in the Fairbanks area:
 
• Salcha Elementary School — Thursday, Sept. 7, starting at 5:30 p.m. For more information, contact Courtney Miklos at courtney.miklos@k12northstar.org
 
• Chena Lakes Recreation Area — Thursday, Sept. 14, starting at 5:30 p.m. For more information, contact Norm Davis at norm.davis@k12northstar.org
 
• Chena Lakes Recreation Area — Thursday, Sept. 21, starting at 5:30 p.m. The host for this event is North Pole Elementary. For more information, contact Allison Bartlett at allison.bartlett@k12northstar.org.
 
The running event planned for the Mat-Su Valley is called the Mat-Su Elementary Cross Country Championships and will start at 3 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 27, at Palmer High School. Fourth- and fifth-grade students can participate in the event. For more information, please contact Lyle Busbey at lyle.busbey@matsuk12.us.
 
Look for other physical activity events and fun runs for families on the Healthy Futures calendar. A fall running tradition in Anchorage begins next week with the Tuesday Night Race series. The series starts Sept. 12 and will take place every Tuesday through Nov. 7.
 
Photograph courtesy of the Anchorage Water & Wastewater Utility
 
August 28
New continuing education credit available for teachers who coordinate the Healthy Futures Challenge

HealthyFuturesLogo.pngPhysical education, health and classroom teachers across Alaska have volunteered their time to help make the free Healthy Futures Challenge run for so many years. Due to their involvement, thousands of young children have been able to participate six months every school year in a physical activity challenge that awards prizes for logging daily activity.

The Fall Healthy Futures Challenge begins Friday, Sept. 1, 2017, in more than 170 schools in 32 school districts across Alaska. This year, teachers in these schools will be able to benefit, too — in a new way. Teachers who coordinate the Challenge at their schools will be able to apply for one continuing education credit. They can do that after registering and completing an online course called “EDPE 590: Healthy Futures for Elementary Educators,” offered through the University of Alaska Anchorage.

"We are always looking for ways to provide value to the teachers who agree to champion the Healthy Futures Challenge at their respective schools,” said Harlow Robinson, executive director of the Alaska Sports Hall of Fame and Healthy Futures. “Providing continuing education credits is a tangible way we can honor their role in the partnership."

The online course costs $74 and was developed by Healthy Futures with support from the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium. Teachers who sign up for the course must complete all parts of the Healthy Futures Challenge. That includes registration; entering all three physical activity log periods in September, October, and November; and distributing prizes to participating students. Teachers also need to complete several short assignments that include posting to a discussion board and sharing ideas among other teachers coordinating the Healthy Futures Challenge at their schools. More information about the course can be found on the syllabus. Interested teachers can find out how to register online. Questions about the course should be directed to Alyse Loran at Healthy Futures. She can be reached at alyse@healthyfuturesak.org or (907) 360-6331.

Starting Sept. 1, students participating in the Healthy Futures Challenge will keep a log of their daily physical activity with the goal of being active at least 60 minutes a day for 15 days each month. This helps Alaska children get closer to the national recommendation of 60 minutes of physical activity every day for the best health. Students can count active time in gym class and during recess.

Is your child’s school signed up for the Fall Healthy Futures Challenge? It’s not too late to sign up online.

August 21
Upcoming School Health & Wellness Institute to focus on healthy, successful students

SHWI logo.png​The 12th Annual School Health & Wellness Institute (SHWI) will be held Oct. 30 – Nov. 1, 2017, at the BP Energy Center in Anchorage. Registration is free and is required to attend. 

This three-day institute provides professional development to educators on all aspects of student and school health. Sessions will enable school health professionals to acquire the knowledge and resources to develop and support students in the areas of nutrition, physical activity, social and emotional learning, mental health, Internet safety, trauma-informed schools, youth risk behaviors, current substance abuse issues, school environmental health, bullying, and more.

The 2017 SHWI begins Monday, Oct. 30, with four preconference sessions (check the website for some preconference requirements). The conference continues Tuesday, Oct. 31, with six plenary sessions, and Wednesday, Nov. 1, with 15 breakout presentations. A full agenda can be found here.

The Institute began in 2006 as a collaboration between the Departments of Education and Early Development and Health and Social Services to provide school staff with the skills and resources to develop local school district wellness policies as required by a new federal regulation. More than a decade later, the Institute is still a collaboration of the two departments and continues to offer sessions on wellness policies. To support the attendance of educators from rural parts of Alaska (where travel costs often hinder the ability to attend), the Institute offers travel scholarships through a competitive application process. Over the years, the Institute has grown in both attendance and scope. 

“Since the beginning of the Institute, the underlying core message has always been that healthier students do better academically. Healthier students are better learners, and when children spend most of their waking hours at school, their health and well-being is a very important component of their education,” said Wendy Hamilton, School Health Program Manager.

Ty Oehrtman, vice president of the American School Health Association board of directors, will be presenting at this year’s Institute on the healthy schools model from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, called the Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child (WSCC). Physical activity and healthy nutrition are two important components of the WSCC model and several breakout presentations address those topics: Healthy Drinks for Healthy Kids, The Importance of Physical Activity in Our Schools, Get Some STEAM Out of Recess, and New Initiatives in Child Nutrition.

A yearly Institute favorite, School Health Success Stories, includes a panel of professionals sharing inspiring examples of how school health is succeeding around the state. Anyone can submit a School Health Success Story nomination form for themselves or someone else. Professionals selected to present their success stories are awarded a travel scholarship to support their attendance at the SHWI.

Conference attendees include teachers, school nurses, school administrators, community health and education professionals, school counselors and anyone working with school or student health.  Contact Wendy Hamilton, School Health Program Manager, at wendy.hamilton@alaska.gov or 465-2768 for more information.

August 03
New Wellness Guidelines available for Alaska’s young children

AKWellnessGuide_YoungChildren_thumb.png

About 1 out of 3 Alaska children is overweight or obese. It’s important to prevent unhealthy weight gain at a young age. Along with families, child care and early education providers can play a big role in helping Alaska’s youngest children grow up at a healthy weight.

Alaska’s Obesity Prevention and Control Program has published a new guide for these providers to help children grow up healthy, active, and ready to learn. The Wellness Guidelines for Alaska’s Young Children: A Toolkit for Child Care Providers and Families are designed to help providers and families develop environments that support and encourage healthy eating, active play, and reduced screen and media time to help young children grow up at a healthy weight and develop healthy habits for life.
 
“It’s important for child care staff, families and other caregivers to be on the same page for young children’s health,” said Diane Peck, a registered dietitian and Early Care and Education Obesity Prevention Specialist for Alaska. “The Wellness Guidelines provide tips for parents to use at home, as well as ideas for child care newsletters and events that can help inform and engage parents. Families can join child care providers in planning programs and activities to prevent childhood obesity and encourage healthy living.”
 
The Wellness Guidelines provide quick and easy information on a variety of topics for obesity prevention in child care facilities. Each topic contains practical tips and ideas for healthy activities in child care facilities or day care homes. These ideas include ways to keep kids active when it’s too cold or wet outside, the healthiest beverages to serve to young children, and ways to support breastfeeding mothers. The Wellness Guidelines contain resources on healthy activities, policies, kids’ books, and more.
 
Alaska’s new Guidelines are based on the national Caring for Our Children Health and Safety Standards that can help prevent childhood obesity. These health and safety standards are the best practices, policies, and procedures for nutrition, physical activity, breastfeeding, and screen and media time that should be followed in today’s child care settings. The Caring for Our Children standards meet or exceed the Alaska Licensing Statutes and Regulations (7 AAC 57) and the Municipality of Anchorage Code (Chapter 16.55).
 
Alaska’s new publication includes a section on traditional foods. Serving traditional foods recognizes the cultural and ethnic preferences of children and broadens all children’s experiences with food. Many foods that grow wild in Alaska are part of a traditional Alaska Native diet. Foods such as wild game meats, fish, seafood, plants, and berries are very nutritious and can be served in child care settings when proper food safety guidelines are followed. Use of these foods can address the cultural and ethnic preferences of many children, encourage community and family engagement, and reduce dependency on store-bought foods.
 
The Wellness Guidelines for Alaska’s Young Children were developed by the Alaska Obesity Prevention and Control Program with input from the Alaska Alliance for Healthy Kids – Early Care and Education Work Group. This work group brings together people interested in addressing childhood obesity in the child care and early education settings. The group consists of Head Start and individual child care providers, as well as organizations that provide licensing, training, and support for child care centers, such as thread, the Child and Adult Care Food Program, the Alaska Child Care Program Office, and the Women, Infants and Children Program (WIC). The group hosts a listserv to provide up-to-date, Alaska-specific information on childhood obesity prevention issues for child care providers. You can click here to join the listserv.
 
You can learn more about healthy eating and active play in child care facilities by clicking here. If you have a question about childhood obesity prevention, contact Peck at diane.peck@alaska.gov or (907) 269-8447.

 
July 24
Port Heiden farm brings food, pride, and positive changes to small Alaska community

Adrianne and Port Heiden.jpgThere are large farms that feed people all across the country, and then there are little farms that feed a community of families who all know each other.

That second kind of farm is what you’ll find in the Native Village of Port Heiden, a small community hundreds of miles southwest of Anchorage on the Alaska Peninsula. This community-run farm raises animals and grows vegetables to help address scarce food sources in the wild and high food prices in the store, as well as the need to help a remote area build a more reliable storage of food in the case of emergencies, said Adrianne Christensen, the village’s director of business development.

Christensen calls the Aleut and Yup’ik community where she was born and raised a “meeting place in between villages.” It once had an Army base and thousands of residents, but now the population has fallen to just over 100 people. Though far from the rest of Alaska’s population, these residents remain close to each other and committed to their home, Christensen said. They’ve moved inland to try to escape the erosion along the coastline. They’ve relied on small airplanes to fly in everything they need and wait weeks to months for packages to arrive.

“So shipping fresh things is basically impossible,” Christensen said.

To feed their families, they rely on subsistence foods like berries and fish and one store with limited — and expensive — food options, she said. Christensen, a mother of two young boys, visited the store recently and the available produce consisted of about 10 pounds of potatoes and another 10 pounds of onions. There was nothing green or leafy on the shelves.

“A gallon of milk costs over $20,” she said.

Then there’s also the decline in traditional food options. The caribou population around Port Heiden had dwindled to the point that the residents were no longer allowed to hunt them.

“That’s what inspired us to start the reindeer farm,” Christensen said. Reindeer, she said, are domesticated caribou.

Christensen said Port Heiden residents spend entire summers hunting and gathering food for their winters, including meat from the reindeer, salmon, moose, ptarmigan, wild greens, and berries. With options becoming scarcer in the wild, residents came together and created the Meshik Farm, which stems from the original village name for Port Heiden. The village is located at the mouth of the Meshik River.

In 2015, the residents flew in 30 reindeer from the Nome area, Christensen said. Over time, they added other animals, including rabbits and chickens for their meat and eggs. They built a barn and an electric fence to keep the bears out. They used recycled items when they could, constructing a chicken house out of a reclaimed fuel drum.

“We lost a bunch of chickens to a fox this morning,” Christensen said in the middle of July, leaving their current chicken count at 15.

Like the caribou population, the rabbit population in the wild had been declining. Port Heiden residents now raise them on the farm for their meat. They also raise four pigs, one of which is pregnant. Pigs are not native to the area, but Port Heiden residents raise them because “we like bacon,” Christensen said. The residents also harvest vegetables and herbs, including squash, celery, tomatoes, potatoes, carrots, cabbage, kale, basil and dill.

Christensen said the Meshik Farm has two paid farmers, but everyone gets involved in some way. The farm is a community effort. The elders watch the animals and make sure they aren’t in danger. Adults build and clean pens, collect eggs, and care for the animals when they are sick. The children help feed and water, even slaughter, the animals. The tribe in Port Heiden sells the meat and produce to community members, and then the profit goes back into managing the farm, Christensen said. The farm website lists a dozen eggs at $12, a chicken for $25, and a rabbit for $20.

 “We had people here who didn’t realize an egg tastes good because they had never eaten a fresh egg,” Christensen said.

At this point, the farm isn’t raising enough money to make it profitable, but it has brought positive changes for the community’s lifestyle. Christensen said the farming program has helped residents stop abusing drugs and kept them sober. It has helped children stay active, chasing reindeer and catching chickens. It’s inspired families to start their own personal gardens and raise animals.

“The farm really brings people together, especially when animals arrive,” Christensen said. “People are really proud of our community and what we’re doing.”

 

The photograph is of Adrianne Christensen, Port Heiden's director of business development, and her son. The image is courtesy of Christensen.

July 10
Introduce your child to new fruits, veggies and other foods at the local farmers market

AK Grown.JPGWant your children to expand their tastes for vegetables beyond peas, carrots, and broccoli? A trip to a local farmers market can help. And if the idea of looking at stacks of potatoes and zucchini doesn’t grab your child’s attention, maybe they would be more interested in duck eggs, raw honey still in the comb, or even yak meat.

Yes, that’s right. There is a yak farm in Willow, and Duane Clark sells the meat at his booth at the Thankful Thursdays market at the Mall at Sears in Anchorage (indoors, Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., all year); Town Square Park in Downtown Anchorage (Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., summer); and the Peters Creek Farmers Market (American Legion Post 33, Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m., June-December).

Clark said it’s fun to show a customer (especially a child) a photo of a yak and explain how it is different from a cow, and what the meat is like.

“Not everyone is going to get a chance to see a yak in real life,” Clark said. “When I explain to them that yak meat is like really good beef, a lot of times they want to try it.”

Even with the more typical produce, like cucumbers or tomatoes, meeting the people who grew and harvested the vegetable can make it much more appealing to a child.

“If they can see the produce connected to someone who enjoys being there, with a happy face, and can tell the story of when (the produce) was planted, and how it grew, that can make a difference,” Clark said. “Kids can see some of the same things in any grocery store, but there, all the guy did was take them out of the box.”

Carla McConnell is the organizational volunteer for the Muldoon Farmers Market in East Anchorage (Begich Middle School, Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., late June to late September). She agreed that shopping in a farmers market is much more exciting for a child.

“There are music and activities, and it’s much more of an event than a grocery store,” McConnell said. “They can get interaction with the farmers themselves in most cases, and can ask them: ‘What is it? What does it taste like? How does it grow?’”

McConnell encourages families to ask for samples to help encourage kids to try new or different options.

“The taste of fresh, locally grown produce is completely different, a totally different taste on the palate,” she said.

Robbi Mixon is the director of the Homer Farmers Market (Ocean Drive, Wednesdays from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m., Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., late May to late September). Mixon said her market often hosts a chef to cook simple recipes in front of the market’s attendees.

“They can see that anyone can make (the featured recipes) with relative ease, and kids can help,” she said. “We also try to have kid helpers working with the chefs, so other kids can see how they can help at home.”

Getting a chance to touch and feel fruits and veggies, and being involved in the preparation process — such as washing, trimming, and chopping — can get a child interested in tasting them, said Lindsay Meyers from Meyers Farm in Bethel (Tundra Ridge, Wednesdays from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m., Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.).

“If you make it as much of a kinesthetic experience as possible, it makes kids want to put the fruits or veggies in their mouths,” Meyers said.

Pea pods are a great starting place.

“It’s fun to open them and taste what’s inside,” said Meyers.

To find farmers markets near you, visit http://buyalaskagrown.com/buy/farmermarkets.
June 27
Free, pick-your-own-food gardens sprout in the center of Anchorage

IMG_6611.JPGA downtown Anchorage church is converting its front lawn into a huge vegetable and herb garden.

A few blocks away at a municipal park, residents and city employees have planted clusters of fruit trees and berry bushes.

These are just two examples of a new trend in urban gardens: edible landscaping. The idea is to create an attractive public space that also provides free food to the community.

“We have planted apple trees, raspberry and currant bushes, blueberries, strawberries, and rhubarb,” said Catherine Kemp, an AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer for the Municipality of Anchorage.

The Fairview Community Council and the Anchorage Community Land Trust received funding from the Cities of Service, as well as donated fruit trees from the State of Alaska Division of Forestry, to create this edible landscaping at Fairview Park.

“We will have signs identifying the plants, explaining how they are traditionally used, and encouraging people to pick them,” said Kemp.

Kemp said food security is a priority for Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz, and he hopes many in the area will benefit from the edible additions. 

“Both local residents and any homeless people in the area will be encouraged to pick and eat the fruit growing here,” said Kemp.

Kemp also has plans to use the garden to teach the children at Fairview Elementary School about food issues.

“I am going to do some education sessions about the importance of growing our own food and how the food system works,” she said.

Just a few blocks away, volunteers from Central Lutheran Church are planting a large vegetable and herb garden in front of their building. 

“We hope to have raised vegetable garden beds built this summer,” said Barbara Baker, a church member who is working on the garden project.

When the garden is ready for harvest, Baker said its bounty will be open to church members, residents of a nearby transitional housing shelter, and children attending the closest Camp Fire Alaska Before and After School Program.

Photograph courtesy of Laura Vachula with the Anchorage Park Foundation

June 07
Healthy Futures Challenge kicks off its summer edition

HealthyFutures_SummerActivityLog.pngFor the second year in a row, the Healthy Futures Challenge will continue in the summer.

Many parents across Alaska know about the free physical activity challenge that is offered twice during each school year — once in the fall and again in the spring. The spring challenge ended in more than 160 elementary schools in April, but the Summer Healthy Futures Challenge will kick off again in June to help Alaska kids get closer to 60 minutes of daily physical activity during the summer.

“The Summer Challenge encourages kids to continue building the habit of daily physical activity through the summer months, keeping them engaged in healthy activities,” said Alyse Loran, Healthy Futures coordinator.
 
Healthy Futures is partnering with Camp Fire Alaska and Denali Family Services to run the summer physical activity challenge in several Anchorage locations and almost 30 rural communities that participate in Denali Family Services camps, Camp Fire’s Rural Camp program, and Camp Fire’s school-age  program in Anchorage.
 
The school-year Healthy Futures Challenge and the Summer Challenge run in slightly different ways. To successfully complete the school-year challenge, children in grades K-6 fill out a physical activity log for an entire month. To complete the Summer Challenge, children need to fill out an activity log for a two-week period of time. During those two weeks, participating children need to be active for 60 minutes a day for at least 10 days, Loran said.
 
There will be four, two-week Summer Challenge periods in June and July, Loran said. Children who complete the Summer Challenge will receive a prize. The prize for a first completed log is a Healthy Futures yo-yo that lights up when it’s used.
 
To learn more about the Summer Healthy Futures Challenge, contact Healthy Futures at alyse@healthyfuturesak.org.
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