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Providing Healthy Food for Schools through Community Gardens

School districts are partnering with their communities to serve healthy, locally harvested food to children during school. Involving children in gardening is a great way to support physical activity and healthy eating, as well as build a sense of contributing to their community.

Kenai Peninsula Borough School District, Tyonek — Growing community gardens to support the school food program

Kenai Peninsula Borough School District, Tyonek — Growing community gardens to support the school food program

Tebughna School is a K-12 school in the small community of Tyonek, which is across the inlet from Anchorage and part of the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District. The Tyonek Tribal Conservation District (TTCD) worked with the Tebughna School to add a community garden program called the Tyonek Grown Program into their school day — involving the youth in a community effort to provide food for their elders and their own school snack and lunch program.

Tyonek Tribal Conservation District, a nonprofit tribal conservation organization, built the community garden program to provide healthy foods for families and children when they saw a need for less expensive fruits and vegetables. Growing fruits and vegetables has improved the availability of nutritious options for this community that does not have a grocery store in their town. The residents would otherwise buy or order groceries in large quantities from Anchorage, which is expensive and limits the amount of fresh quality foods they can have and eat.

"Perishable items like fruits and vegetables are expensive and difficult to ship, leading to a decrease in their presence in rural villages in favor of processed food items with preservatives for increased longevity," said the Tyonek Grown Program business plan. "This contributes to the growing diabetes problem and other health problems in Tyonek." According to the business plan, a Tyonek resident buying groceries in Anchorage would pay at least an additional .36 cents a pound to have them shipped by airplane.

Through TTCD's Tyonek Grown Program, the community garden improves food security for residents who aren't able to get fresh foods from elsewhere. This program gives residents an opportunity to eat healthier foods grown locally.

The community garden in Tyonek has about 1.5 acres available for operation, two seasonal high tunnels, more than a dozen outdoor raised beds, as well as crops of potatoes, other vegetables and fruits. An early priority of the community garden was to include the youth in the project and bring back gardening to the community. In addition to providing lower cost food, gardens can also increase physical activity for kids and adults who work in them.

Gardening is part of the school day. Students help start and care for the seeds in the Tebughna School. They plant, water the garden and harvest produce, according to the business plan. Students even wanted to start hydroponics, or growing plants without soil.

Tonya Kaloa, the Program Assistant for TTCD, is a Tyonek tribal member and shareholder. Kaloa said the conservation and science focus of the project is what they teach kids in school, and this lends itself to conversations about diabetes prevention, nutrients and the health aspects of the fresh grown food.

"They are taught to use their brain, talk together, communicate and eat together as part of the process," she said. Hands-on conservation science lessons are part of another TTCD program in the school called Tyonek Youth Conservation and Science.

"The hydroponics aspect was added last year and this came from conversations with the youth in Tyonek over the years. They wanted to see hydroponics, and it was added in November of last year (2017)," Kaloa said. "Now that this has been added, they can see the difference between hydroponics and growing (in gardens)."

This is what Alaska communities are doing to help kids grow up healthy. What can your community do? Click here to find more ideas to provide healthy foods, drinks and physical activity for kids.​​​​​​​​