Maeve Celentano and Ocean Matley find Tuesday's spaghetti lunch finger-licking good at Kenai Montessori School. The facility has gone to an all-organic menu.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
Don't expect to find sloppy Joe's and regular old chocolate pudding on the menu at Kenai Montessori School. They won't be there.
This month, KMS met U.S. Department of Agriculture guidelines for all meals and snacks in an all-organic food program, a goal they've finally reached bit by bit during the past two years. From milk and hot dogs to the bread they make at school, it's all organic.
Bob and Rachel Pugh, director and head teacher of the school, order their pesticide-free, growth hormone-free and antibiotic-free foods because they believe it offers kids a head start in general health.
Rachel Pugh said parents are telling her their kids are not getting as sick as they have in previous school years.
One parent, Laurie Winslow, said she is impressed the school is doing well with the organic menu in the small community of Kenai.
"I think the program is just great. It's nice to know they're doing this, serving food without all the pesticides and the growth hormones in milk. It shows they care because it is so difficult to do here, being that we're in Alaska. Although it can get expensive, I'm all for it," she said.
Rachel Pugh grew up in a health-food store and has seen advantages to an organic diet for many years and wants to pass on those benefits to her students. She emphasizes they live in a small community, and social skills get the same emphasis as academics and paying attention to nutrition.
"We teach education for life, practical living, and that learning is fun and exciting. The menu is all organic with no chemicals to interfere with their growth. Being all organic should help with good growth and learning," she said.
She can tell a difference in the behavior of the students this year compared to previous years and attributes it to the change to an organic diet.
"They have more focus and calm down easier in the classroom. They have better concentration. Most of all, the children like it. They know that 'different' can be good, and trying things is a good experience," Pugh said.
"We're finding out that learning disorders and lots of allergies are linked to poor diet. The more you read about them, the more they make sense. You can put so many impurities into your body, and going organic is the best way to get around that."
One drawback is the higher price for organic foods. Bob Pugh said it does cost more and it takes more effort to implement. He said making the switch to organic was the logical thing to do based on the reading he's done, regardless of the higher cost, and he passionately believes going organic is a good move.
The higher costs of an organic diet is becoming less of an obstacle as the organic food market continues to grow. Mike Hiller, manager at Smokey Bay Natural Foods in Homer, said the general trend is the costs of organic foods are lining up with conventional foods costs.
"Produce items, especially vegetables, are nearly aligned in cost. The biggest difference is with dairy products and specialty items, with organics being mostly higher," he said.
Hiller also said the popularity of organic foods is growing massively, and the cost difference will eventually level out.
Public school kids can get a slice of the organic pie, too. Kenai Montessori is open to students enrolled in other schools in the afternoon, providing there is room.
"Some kids who have never had the organic foods before might taste something and say to themselves, 'this tastes different,' but they get used to it," said Rachel Pugh.
Typical snacks are fresh vegetables and homemade organic bread with butter and cream cheese and teas from around the globe. The menu also incorporates local foods such as salmon, halibut, caribou and moose. Soon, the class will build a greenhouse so students can grow their own fruits and vegetables to contribute to the school juice bar.
For more information, visit the lunch menu page at the school's Web site at www.kenai montessori.com.
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