Thursday, October 9, 2014

Farm to table takes on new meaning at Effie Kokrine Charter School

At Effie Kokrine Charter School, locally grown food did not have to travel far for a wholesome “farm to school” experience.

Local harvest takes on a whole new meaning when the food is grown in a school’s back yard, harvested by students, prepared and served on site.
From left, FFA members at Effie Kokrine Charter School serve up homegrown food at their school: Stefania Kremer, Suleymi Juarez and Catalina Kremer.
Spearheaded by the school’s FFA advisor, Avril Wiers, the project was an offshoot of the summer science program. All season, 25 high school students worked with Wiers in the school garden, growing vegetables and earning science credits. The students read “Chew on This” and Omnivore’s Dilemma” (young readers’ edition).

The Farm at Effie Kokrine also includes ducks, chickens and rabbits. A local Kiwanis Club helped the students build a barn for the animals this summer. Wiers teaches two, four-week sessions of the summer program, with students spending half their time in the classroom and half in the garden. “It’s project-based learning,” she explained. Exploration is the theme, and one student took off with landscape design and another was drawn to beekeeping.

With a grant from the Alaska Division of Agriculture’s Farm to School program, the Effie Kokrine FFA chapter was able to fund the school garden and purchase kitchen swag (hats and aprons), a French fry cutter and a chest freezer.

With the freezer, Wiers plans to preserve more of the garden’s bounty next summer. She has been managing the school garden for years, with its popularity among students growing alongside the veggies. The school even had three CSA (community supported agriculture) members this summer, with  members paying an upfront fee for a portion of the harvest. “We’re breaking into that scene a little bit,” Wiers said.

Her hope is that more vegetables can be served in the school cafeteria. “And we want to integrate cultural foods into the lunchroom,” she said. “We want the students to be more aware of where their food comes from. It’s easy to be complacent about where food comes from but when you plant the seeds, pick the veggies and serve them, that’s a great lesson for kids to learn.”

For the first few weeks of school, the cafeteria featured lettuce from the garden. On Sept. 22, Wiers and her FFA members served roasted cauliflower and Romanesco broccoli, roasted root vegetables and raw carrots at lunch time. Dressed in their FFA blue jackets and new aprons, the students handed out containers of food, while one young man recorded his classmates’ opinions about the menu.
“We tried to make it a special day,” Wiers said. “We needed to use up the veggies from the garden and thought it would be better to have a big event.

“The students have been really supportive,” she added. “We had to find common ground between what the kids will eat and what will grow in Alaska.”

Teacher James Krall said he would love to see the school garden grow. “The best thing that could happen to a school is local food and especially with kids growing the food.”

Wiers has applied for funding to purchase a hydroponic system so the students could grow lettuce year round. “We could stock the salad bar with Effie-grown lettuce,” she said.

Students at Effie Kokrine started a petition to get a salad bar in their cafeteria and they now have it, one of the few schools in the school district with that option. “They were getting the after-lunch slump,” Wiers said. “They wanted to integrate fresh, light, healthy options.

“We have opened up the dialog about what we eat and why.”

Contact info:
Avril Wiers’ email:

Yummy food grown at the school was served to students.

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