A program under the Alaska Division of Agriculture that helps children eat healthy, local food has received zero funding under Gov. Mike Dunleavy's budget proposal.

Lyssa Frohling, coordinator of the Farm to School Program, said its primary purpose is to help coordinate getting Alaska-grown produce into local school districts.

About 10% of the food served in the Anchorage School District is locally grown

In the Anchorage School District, about 10 percent of what is served is locally grown according to Andy Mergens, its head of student nutrition.

Mergens said the district is getting locally grown carrots and potatoes, and is experimenting with Alaska-grown beef and grains. Mergens said almost 90 percent of the student nutrition program is federally funded, but the state-funded Food to School Program did help the district connect with local producers when it first started including more locally grown food several years ago.

"A lot of that liaison with the growers and the ranchers and the raisers that are out there has already been done," Mergens said.

Mergens thinks the district can continue that work on its own if the Farm to School Program goes away, but added that buying locally is still a goal that can benefit the entire state and strengthen its commitment to agriculture and food security.

"Because now, all of a sudden, instead of buying from some farm in the Lower 48, we are buying it from a farmer here," he said. "And their ability to stay solvent is that much better because they've got a guaranteed consumer-user of their product."

Frohling said one part of the program that will go away with zero funding is its educational component. Farm to School staff members visit classrooms to teach children about healthy eating and where local food comes from.

That's a good idea, according to Mergens.

"It doesn't just come from a plastic bag in the grocery store or a white foam packet wrapped in cellophane," he said. "It actually comes from a farmer that had to spend the time to raise it."

It's a message some fear may be lost if the Farm to School Program goes away.

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