CHUGIAK — There are subtle but obvious differences between locally-grown produce and that which is trucked thousands of miles before reaching Alaska.
“It just has more of that crunch,” said Mikayla Sanchez, a student in Kathy Vik’s family and consumer science class at Chugiak High.
As she spoke, Sanchez and her classmates munched on leafy green lettuce and bright orange carrots grown just up the road in Palmer. The fresh veggies were left over from a lunchtime salad giveaway the class held for their fellow Chugiak students.
Amity Capras, another student in the class, said the taste of the local vegetables doesn’t compare with store-bought.
“It’s significantly better quality,” Capras said.
Vik’s students made up about a hundred salads, most of which were gobbled up by hungry teens in the school’s cafeteria. She said the idea behind giving away so much fresh food was to introduce more of the student body to what Alaska-grown food has to offer.
“If you teach them to enjoy it, they’ll eat more of it,” Vik said.
The reason Vik and her class had so much fresh food to hand out was because of a $1,000 “Farm to School” grant Vik recently received from the Alaska Department of Natural Resources. The grant allowed her to purchase fresh produce from places like Alaska Root Sellers and VanderWeele Farms in Palmer, and also bring in local farmers and chefs to talk about buying local.
Vik said Eagle River chef Clayton Jones (Haute Quarter Grill) and Mat-Su chef David Thorne visited her class to speak about cooking with fresh ingredients, while farmer Roger VanderWeele explained how the food is grown at his Palmer farm.
After hearing from the experts and using the vegetables to cook meals in class, senior Cisalee Oldham said she was surprised at just how superior the local produce was.
“I never thought it would make that much of a difference,” Oldham said.
Oldham said her family always used to buy at the grocery store. But that’s starting to change now that she realizes how good the produce is right here in Southcentral Alaska.
“I had my mom go get some carrots from a stand the other day,” she said.
Vik said most people don’t realize that buying local is not only a tastier option, it’s also a good way to save money. Prices of local produce is comparable to what you’d pay in the grocery store, she said, but the local stuff goes a lot further. To illustrate her point, Vik held up a giant head of lettuce that dwarfed what you’d see in the produce section.
“You get twice as much,” she said. “They’re nothing like you buy at the store.”
Because the fresh stuff seems to yield more usable food, Vik said any premium you might pay for farm-fresh is offset.
“It’s definitely more cost effective,” she said.
And a lot more fun to cook with, too.
“It’s just so noticeable,” she said. “You can smell the freshness.”