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Igniting The Passion For Food In A Rural Alaska School District

Phil Hulett is a change agent. He identified challenges within his district's 400-student and staff population and took action. His vision was an engaged and energized staff, students and community in a nutritious, cook from scratch foods program It should be noted that while the majority of schools are transitioning from a "heat and serve" to highly processed, "pre-packaged, ready to eat", Phil recognized that he wanted his community and their children to have a stronger connection to their food for a myriad of benefits, including their health. He moved in a direction consistent with his community as a native village, rooted in their traditional harvest of wild fish, game and plants.

Watch our conversation with Phil below as he explains, in his own words, the steps they are taking to ignite the passion for food and how he would like to collaborate.

Dillingham Elementary School

Phil serves as the Business Manager and Food Service Director for the Dillingham City School District. Dillingham has a population of 2500 and is located in southwest Alaska and accessible by air and vessel (mostly cargo). Dillingham is located at the mouth of the Nushagak River, making it the hub of one of the largest natural salmon runs in the world.

Rural communities and especially those in Alaska face extraordinary challenges. Phil's background in food service likely gave him a different perspective of how to overcome a high turnover rate of staff. He recognized the status quo of menus and offerings was rote and uninspiring. The foods and the foods program did not hit the mark of engaging our students or staff. "I wanted people to find joy in the food preparation, serving and dining experience. We could do better."

Stepping Out Of The Status Quo

In 2022, the district was presented with an opportunity to apply for a grant through the Chef Ann Foundation. In February 2023, the foundation announced that the Dillingham City School District was awarded a grant, as part of their 5th cohort. This is the game changer Phil has been seeking.

Through the program, Phil and his cohort have already visited a number of schools already implementing a cook from scratch program. The results of those experiencing the results gave testimonials that benefits go far beyond the plate. What Phil was was a building of community around the stimulation of creativity in areas such as sourcing, growing, cooking, recipe development and overall enjoyment around the entire experience.

As Phil awaits the first site visit of the Chef Ann Foundation members, he knows it will be a mutual learning process. For his district, solutions to a healthier community through a nutritious food program. For the foundation members, a crash course in rural Alaska.

"I'm thrilled to have the Chef Ann Foundation come along side us building a program that I have long envisioned. Our district now has a proven partner to support our work to ignite the passion of good quality food for our students, staff, parents and the community, as a whole." - Phil Hulett, Business Manager/Food Director, Dillingham School District

Collaborations: Full Steam Ahead

Supply chains that offer diversified sourcing options from Anchorage for fresh product offerings is key to the future success of this program. It's all hands on deck for local and regional sourcing and and stronger collaborations to coordinate contracts on distribution, transportation and purchasing. Phil discusses the simultaneous review he's initiated to update their wellness policy, affording an opportunity for further collaboration with the local and regional health providers and stakeholders.

Phil Hulett, Business Manager/Food Service Director

A regional overview and it's natural abundance. #bristolbay

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