They abound in yards, along trails, in the alpine tundra. They appear bold and plump, bright and dense, firm and tender. They taste impeccable by the handful, on oatmeal, in smoothies.
Yep, its berry picking time in Alaska and this year’s pickings look plentiful and ripe. Gathering berries gets us outside and moving, while also yielding a cache of goodies to eat, freeze, can and dry for months to come.
“All of Alaska’s berries, like blueberries, cranberries, and currents, provide vitamins, fiber, and antioxidants that can help prevent chronic diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer,” said Diane Peck, the Public Health Nutritionist for the state’s Obesity Prevention and Control Program.
“Cup for cup, cloudberries, or low-bush salmonberries, provide three times the amount of vitamin C in orange juice.”
Leslie Shallcross, an associate professor in the Anchorage office of the UAF Cooperative Extension Service, agreed. “Alaska wild berries are true nutrition power houses with even higher levels of antioxidants than their Lower 48 counterparts and the most abundant fruit type growing in Alaska,” she added. “Regular consumption of berries has been linked to many health benefits such as improved memory, lower blood sugar levels and decreased pain.”
All of which is to say, there are many good reasons to fill a pail with berries. Many Alaskans hold dear the secret to their favorite berry patch, of course, but it only takes a bit of looking to find one.
“Some of the parks in Anchorage will have blueberries, lingonberries, watermelon berries, currants, rose hips, high bush cranberry,” said Shallcross. “For family outings, Girdwood, Arctic Valley, Hatcher's Pass, Hope are favorites in South Central. …Some only grown in the damper, milder temperatures of Southeast Alaska.”
Berries don’t grow abundantly in the same places every year, so it pays to go on hikes ahead of time to look for flowers and immature berries. The exact ripening period varies in different regions and years, but most berries are ready to pick in mid to late July through August, with some ripening as late as September.
Some popular types of berries ripen in this order, from early to late summer -- wild strawberry, currants, wild raspberry, cloudberry, nagoonberry, salmonberry, blueberry, highbush cranberry, rosehip, crowberry, service berry.
“Altogether, there are around 40 different edible berries, although not all of these are tasty,” said Shallcross.
A few are poisonous or unpalatable, so it’s important to know how to identify them. Baneberry is particularly poisonous and just a few berries can lead to death. Adults should make sure children know how to identify safe berries before picking them, and beware of wildlife, plant live (like Devil’s club) and other hazards associated with the wilderness.
Parents should make sure their children know how to identify safe berries before picking them, and beware of wildlife, plant life (like Devil’s club) and other hazards associated with the wilderness. As always when headed outdoors, take water and prepare for the weather.
Armed with some knowledge and an appetite, everyone can fill up on one of the healthiest food on the planet by plucking them from the berry playground within your reach.
Maybe you rent an apartment and don’t have a yard. Perhaps you have a yard, but it’s not big enough for a garden that feeds your family. Or, maybe you just like to plant vegetables among family, friends and neighbors.
All of these are great reasons to check out a local community garden program in your city. A number of Alaska communities have low-cost garden plots that you can rent to supply your family with lettuce, carrots and other vegetables throughout the summer. Here are links to some of them, but call your city to ask about gardens in your area:
These websites will help you find out when to register for a plot, what supplies are available and the rules for renting garden space. Fair warning: Community garden programs can be very popular and there may be waiting lists due to a limited number of plots.
There are lots of benefits to renting garden plots. You know what goes into your greens, and you can’t get much more local than your own garden plot. You have a place to be physically active — preparing the land, planting and harvesting — and reap the healthy rewards at your dinner table. You can get your kids involved, showing them how to grow their own food.
What can you grow? On its website, Juneau’s garden association calls potatoes “practically foolproof” and rhubarb “almost effortless.” The association recommends planting a short row of lettuce every couple of weeks, and to consider kale, a leafy green that “loves our weather.”
You can also save money by renting a garden plot. The cost for one plot in Anchorage is $35. In Juneau, plots also cost $35. The plot cost in Fairbanks is $40. Some gardens come with extras, including water for irrigation, picnic tables for family gatherings, portable toilets and a nearby area for kids to get out and play. Families can use their plots to grow their own vegetables without having to spend money purchasing produce that often has to be shipped here from outside states and countries.
Each garden has its rules. You must get your plot ready and planted by a certain time each year, and you need to tend your garden a certain numbers of hours each week. You need to be a good neighbor and keep your produce inside your plot boundaries. And you need to clean up after yourself at the end of the harvest.
Community gardens are in full swing this summer, but be sure to check out your community’s website to learn more about how you can grow your family’s food on a rented garden plot.
(Photo copyright 2013 Nathaniel Wilder. Used with permission from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.)
A person at play needs the right fuel to do it. For that, nothing beats Alaska farmers markets, where you can find fresh, flavorful and nutritious vegetables, meat, seafood and bread.
Using Alaska Quest cards – the means for accessing SNAP benefits— eligible Alaskans can also take advantage of a matching program supported by the state that allows them to purchase up to $40 worth of eligible market foods for $20.
“My goal is to increase access to and the availability of healthy foods,” said Diane Peck, the Public Health Nutritionist for the state’s Obesity Prevention and Control Program. “Local food, especially produce, is very healthy, fresh, and it supports local farmers and businesses, supports our economy, and all of that helps public health.”
The Alaska Farmers Markets – Quest Card Program began promoting and supporting the implementation of electronic banking at two pilot markets in 2011 using funds provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Electronic card readers allow markets to accept Quest cards. The pilot markets yielded $13,000 the first year. The program expanded from there, earning markets revenue of $50,000 in 2012 and $114,000 in 2013 when the matching program began.
This year, 11 markets accept Quest cards in Anchorage, Bethel, Homer, Fairbanks, Petersburg, Sitka and Willow, and all provide access to the matching program.
Access to fresh local foods makes a difference in health and the local community, said Peck. A survey of Quest card users showed their enthusiasm for supporting local farmers and having access to an array of organic foods, she said, and that means growing the customer base for local farmers.
When you bike, you need wheels. When you swim,
you need water. When you ski you need snow and boards under your feet. But when you run, you need little more than the right attitude.
“You can cover distance, you can do it anywhere, and you don’t need equipment to do it,” said Olympic skier Kikkan Randall, who also won the 2011 Mount Marathon trail race.
“And,” added Holly Brooks, the current Mount Marathon champ, “You never know when it’s going to come in handy.”
Like when you go from freeze to speed when playing tag, capture the flag, soccer and “keep-up-with-the-dog.” Truth is, you can jog or run anywhere – on trails, tracks, treadmills, playgrounds, grassy fields, sand, and mountain scree.
Running can also propel you into fun and unexpected territory. Randall got into skiing to stay in shape for cross country running, and later carried that momentum from Mount Marathon to Sochi, Russia – where she raced in the 2014 Winter Olympics where Holly did the same, and many other athletes and Alaskans integrate running into their journeys.
The fish are running and so should you. Check out the Alaska Runner’s Calendar for outdoor events and fun runs throughout Alaska. Here’re a few upcoming highlights from the list:
- July 23 and July 30, Aug. 6: The Salmon Run 1K and 5K race series, 5 p.m. registration and 6 p.m. 5K run start, Wednesdays on the Tsalteshi Trails in Soldotna, www.kenaiwatershed.org.
- July 25: The Pipeline Run in the Late night Sun 5K in Delta Junction, 8 p.m., http://deltanafair.com/fair_events/pipeline-run/.
- July 25: Relay for Life in Kodiak, 6 p.m. to 6 p.m., www.relayforlifeofkodiak.org.
- July 26: Dog Jog 1-mile/5-mile runs in Anchorage, 10 a.m., www.friendsofpets.org.
- Aug 2: Blueberry Fun Run & Walk 1 mile kid run, plus 5k/10k in Ketchikan, 9 a.m., www.ketchikanrunningclub.com.
- Aug 3: 12th Annual Running with the Bulls 1K, 5K and 10K at the Musk Ox Farm in Palmer, 1 p.m., www.muskoxfarm.org/events/.
- Aug 9: Alaska Statehood Fun Run/Walk 5.5K in Fairbanks, 10 a.m., www.runningclubnorth.org.
- Aug 10: Breast Cancer Beach Run in Homer, www.kbfpc.org.
- Aug 16: Big Wild Life 2K for kids in Anchorage, 9:30 a.m., www.bigwildliferuns.com.
- Aug 16: Superhero 5K in Kenai, 11 a.m., www.facebook.com/#!/KenaiSuperhero5kRunWalk.
- Aug 17: Big Wild Life Runs in Anchorage, assorted courses, www.bigwildliferuns.org.
- Aug 23: The Milk Run trail 5K course in Anchorage, www.owensmilkmoney.org.
- Aug 30: Houston Half Marathon & Relay with ½-mile and 1-mile kids’ dashes, 11:30 a.m., www.thehoustonhalf.com.
- Aug 30: McCarthy-Kennicott Half Marathon and 5K, www.wrangells.org.
- Aug 30: End of Summer Mini Marathon 5K in Seldovia, www.seldoviachamer.org.
Obesity costs our kids by putting them at risk for childhood diabetes, heart disease, asthma and other chronic conditions, as well as putting stress on their joints, bones and organs.
Now translate that into dollars and cents. The medical cost of childhood obesity will top $625 million dollars over the next 20 years when considering just the current group of children and adolescents in Alaska, according to a new study by the University of Alaska’s Institute of Social and Economic Research.
This number doesn’t include indirect costs of obesity, such as lower productivity, missed time from work or limited education, said the study’s author, Mouhcine Guettabi, an assistant economics professor at UAA. Guettabi said the number “can be used as the absolute lower boundary of medical cost estimates.”
The study used a 2012 cohort of children from 2 to 19 years old to estimate obesity-related medical costs over 20 years for that group only. The pattern will continue in Alaska as more children are born, grow up, and become obese.
“This picture will repeat itself over and over and over,” Guettabi said.
The study bases its numbers on current patterns of obesity that show 15.2 percent of Alaska’s children classified as obese and 20 percent of non-obese Alaska children become obese adults.
The study concludes that reducing obesity rates in children between 2 and 19 years by 1 percent would save nearly $17 million over 20 years. Decreasing the percentage of non-obese kids who become obese adults by 1 percent would save over $14.3 million over 20 years. Dropping the percentage of obese adolescents who become obese adults would save another $2.9 million.
Play it safe: When on wheels, wear a helmet; when on water, wear a life jacket.
Sunlight and summer break appear on every kid’s ingredient list for play, but the recipe for fun should include safety gear, too.
Injury is the leading cause of death for Alaska children.Helmets and life jackets can make the difference between life and death when kids play on wheels or water.
Gaining speed and doing tricks on bikes, skates, scooters, skateboards and unicycles means risking unexpected bumps and falls. Thrills and spills happen, of course, but standard safety precautions can reduce the incidence and severity of injury.
“Both children and adults need to be wearing a helmet and be knowledgeable about the rules of the road,” said Stephanie Holmquist, program manager for the Be Safe Be Seen program for the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services. “Bicyclists should be aware of cars at all times and never assume the vehicle can see you. Wearing a reflector is a great way to be noticed by vehicles during the day or at night.”
Make sure helmets fit snugly and that kids know the importance of visibility. Even in daylight, reflectors and bright clothing help, and making eye contact with others on the road or trail means seeing and being seen.
Visit Alaska’s Injury Prevention Program to get more information on bicycle and pedestrian safety or to get reflectors or helmets for your school. Also, check out the testimonial of mixed media artist Margret Hugi-Lewis, who suffered a head injury when skating in her studio.
Kids also spend a lot of time in and around water during the summer months.
If you own a boat or spend a lot of time by the water, make sure you have life jackets on hand and that kids wear them. Children under 13 are required by law to wear personal flotation devices when in an open boat, on an open deck and when waterskiing.
Look for the Kids Don’t Float loaner boards at beaches and near bodies of water throughout Alaska. These boards allow you to borrow life jackets free of charge. There are over 500 loaner sites from Adak to Yukon Village.
Whether by land or by water, help kids play safely so they play every day all summer long.
The first 150 schools that sign up for the Challenge will receive two window clings to display.
It’s hard to think about the next school year when this one is days away from summer break.
But the Play Every Day campaign is working with Healthy Futuresthis week to sign up Alaska elementary schools for the Fall Healthy Futures Challenge next September.
Getting schools signed up now means teachers and other staff can prepare to kick off the physical activity challenge when the 2014-15 school year begins.
If you’re a principal, teacher or school staff member, visit the Healthy Futures website to sign up your school. Registration begins at 8 a.m. Wednesday, May 14. Don’t wait to register. During the registration period for the Spring Healthy Futures Challenge that just ended, 90 schools signed up in the first hour and the first 150 schools signed up in three days.
Current funding allows Healthy Futures to provide prizes to participating students at the first 150 schools that sign up. Those first schools will also receive two window clings to show off their involvement in the Healthy Futures Challenge.
Additional schools that sign up will be added to a waiting list and entered into the Fall Challenge if funding allows.
Here’s how the Fall Healthy Futures Challenge works: The Challenge will run September, October and November 2014. Students in grades K-6 at participating schools will pick up a log form at school each month and mark down the number of days they were physically active. They’ll turn in the log at the end of the month to a designated staff member at their schools. Healthy Futures will send prizes to the school staff to distribute to students who successfully complete each month of the Challenge.
Schools with the highest participation rates also can win Healthy Futures grants to buy health and physical education equipment.
If you’re a student or a parent who wants to make sure your school participates, please talk to your school’s staff and encourage them to register the school online. The Fall Challenge is free for schools and students throughout Alaska.
Join the fun, and get out and play, every day.
The latest Play Every Day PSAtalks about how obesity effects children on the inside.
Some people focus on obesity because of how it looks on the outside. They consider it a cosmetic problem. But obesity is also a physical problem, and it impacts adults – and kids – from the inside out.
On the inside of the body
, even in children, obesity leads to high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and the body working overtime to balance blood sugar and get enough oxygen. The burden of this extra work can lead to heart disease, diabetes and asthma in childhood and later in life.
Extra weight in kids further “puts strain on joints that can result in knee, hip, and back pain that keep kids from being active 60 minutes a day,” said Karol Fink, director of the Obesity Prevention and Control Program
for the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services.
Yet an hour of physical activity a day is essential to our children’s health. That’s why Play Every Day
produced a PSA
to make Alaskans aware that it’s what’s on the inside that matters.
“Because of what is going on inside of our children’s bodies,” said Fink, “it is predicted that the current generation of children and youth will be diagnosed with chronic medical conditions earlier in life than the generations before.”
Fortunately we can fix this. Get out and play with your children, cut down on screen time, create family time around physical activity and healthy meals, and help build communities that make physical activity safe and easy for people of all ages.
Kids ride for health, fun and friendship on Bike to School Day.
Leave the bus stop behind and hop on your bike instead.
On May 7, join students from more than 40 Anchorage schools in riding your bikes to school.National Bike to School Dayprovides a fun, healthy alternative for getting to school in the morning.
Students at Alpenglow Elementary in Eagle River will be joined by a special guest rider on their way to school – cross country skier Sadie Bjornsen, fresh off her Olympic races in Sochi, Russia.
The goal is to bike to school safely, so the Bicycle Shop is partnering with the Anchorage School District to hold a Bike Safety Check and Carnival at their 1801 W. Dimond Blvd. store from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, May 3.Safety experts will make sure the bikes are safe for pedaling to school, help adjust helmets, and provide other safety tips.
Students who bike to school on May 7 must wear helmets and should wear bright clothing so they can be more easily seen on the road.
Parents, we didn’t mean to leave you out. Join your sons and daughters on their ride to school, then just keep on going and bike all the way to the office. (You’ll have a jumpstart on Bike to Work Day, which will take place in Anchorage on June 4!)
Find out if your children’s schools are participating in Bike to School day. If not, you can call the school staff and encourage them to sign up – and, of course, bike to school and work anyway!
College Gate Elementary students show the joy of play during their Make Your Move video shoot.
The College Gate video won a $15,000 grand prize toward outdoor PE gear, plus a school visit by Super Bowl MVP Malcolm Smith of the Seattle Seahawks. Smith visited College Gate on April 11 to congratulate students and staff on the video and share his thoughts about fitness and nutrition.
The prize money went toward cross country skis that are on order now, due at the school next fall, as part of the program's mission to get kids physically active one hour every day. Povolo has already implemented an ongoing "Fuel Up To Play 60" program with a fruit and veggie contest, a push up and sit up contest, a “PE class of the week” selection, and morning music to get kids up and out of their seats during the day's announcements.
The video produced great results for the school and its students. Here, Povolo and Kennedy explain how it got made:
POVOLO: I saw the Fuel Up To Play 60 "Make Your Move" contest this fall. I was very interested in entering the contest because it had a huge grand prize of $15,000 and that can purchase a lot of awesome physical education equipment for my students.
KENNEDY: It was pretty crazy. I remember we had only a week or two before the submission deadline, which in my realm is like trying to cook a frozen turkey in 10 minutes.
POVOLO: Melanie Sutton (ASD), myself and Stephen got together for some creative brainstorming and came up with the creative slogan "Fuel Up To Play the Alaska Way" and that the (prize) money would be used to purchase cross country skis and snowshoes for our students at College Gate. … I talked about Alaska winters being dark, cold, and long, and that having skis and snowshoes would be a wonderful way to bring my physical education students outside into nature while exercising.
KENNEDY: I spent the entire school recess with Katie on the day of our recording. It's such a joy to get out and spend time with our students and staff, easily the best part of my job. We just got out there and exercised and played with all the students. It was an absolute blast! … Afterwards, I spent about eight hours putting it all together. I had to crush about an hour of footage down to 60 seconds. That was my biggest challenge.
POVOLO: When Stephen finished the video and sent it to me I was elated. It turned out so fantastic! I submitted the entry in November and was notified on January 6th that we had won the grand prize of $15,000.