Governor signs Farm-to-school bill

Governor Sean Parnell on Tuesday signed into law the Farm-to-School Act at Palmer High School. The bill was unanimously approved in both the House and Senate and hailed across party lines as it creates a program to increase Alaska-grown foods served in public schools. The bill also authorizes schools to start and operate their own school gardens and greenhouses to grow fruits and vegetables for school district’s meal and snack programs. But the implementation gives school district administrators food for thought.

Mat-Su school district spokeswoman Catherine Esary said that it is not clear yet how the bill will actually help to put more local produce and fruits on the school menu.

Chris Johnson is the supervisor of the school district’s nutrition services and he’s trying to figure whether the state follows up with money to pay for the higher cost of local food or how to deal with availability. While local produce is available in the first two months of the school year, Johnson wonders how the bill is to be implemented in the winter months when it is tough to get fresh Alaska-grown foods. Johnson said that the Mat-Su school district is very supportive of the idea but that the state needs to follow up with cash to help in the procurement of local food. Johnson explains that the district’s free breakfast, lunch and snack programs are paid for with federal money and that the district can only afford to buy local food if the price is right.

The only fiscal note attached to the Farm-to-Schools bill is to create a full-time and a half-time position within the Department of Natural Resources. According to Johnson, the Department of Education will advise the local school districts on how to implement the Farm-to-School program. The bill takes effect August 1 and sunsets July 1, 2014.

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