Healthy Living in the North

Growing local food in Fort Nelson

Northern Health’s IMAGINE Community Grants provide funding to a variety of groups with projects that make northern communities healthier. Our hope is that these innovative projects inspire healthy community actions where you live! Check out the story below and read more IMAGINE Community Grant stories.


Greenhouse

The sun shines on a greenhouse built for youth and family programs in Fort Nelson. The greenhouse was funded by an IMAGINE grant.

Sometimes when groups are looking at the healthy eating and food security needs in their community, the idea of applying for “seed funding” from the IMAGINE Community Grants program is taken very literally. Other times, especially in a region where the growing season is “short in days but long in daylight hours,” those seeds need just a little more help.

That’s what the Northern Rockies Regional Municipality was proposing with their Youth Sustainability Greenhouse Project, which got an IMAGINE grant in the spring of 2016. As the Regional Municipality looked for ways to involve more youth and families in local food production in Fort Nelson (they had already put in a few raised garden beds in 2015), building a greenhouse was an excellent way to address a need, promote healthy outcomes, and create a project that would last.

Youth working in a greenhouse

Young people in the Summer Fun Program planted, cared for, and harvested vegetables from seed.

The greenhouse they built, which was used by young people in the local Summer Fun Program, served two primary purposes, according to project coordinator Krista Vandersteen:

  1. Local food: “Youth in the program planted, cared for and harvested vegetables from both the garden and the greenhouse. Participants planted various vegetables from seed, including carrots, spinach, lettuce, peas, beans, squash, tomatoes, garlic, and green onion … The greenhouse allowed the participants to actively grow vegetables that they could not in the adjacent garden.”
  2. Education: “Once per week, the Northern Rockies Sustainability Coordinator visited the program to teach participants different lessons regarding food growth and [food] security. The children also learned about healthy eating and why vegetables are important in their diet. 135 youth participated throughout the summer, learning about multiple topics such as composting 101, using a rain barrel, and the importance of bees … Parents enjoyed that the program contained a practical educational component that their children may not be receiving in school.”

Now that the greenhouse has been funded and built with the support of an IMAGINE grant, the new gardening and education parts of the Summer Fun Program will be continuing annually.

The bumper crop that resulted from the greenhouse and the talented young gardeners also created the chance for a unique partnership. “When the project ended,” said Vandersteen, “the Northern Rockies Regional Municipality was left with extra produce that had not been eaten or used in programming. An effort was made to reach out to the local food bank as perishable food is often difficult to acquire.” Now, the project organizers are working with the local food bank to set up a partnership for next year. “As extra produce is harvested throughout the growing season,” said Vandersteen, “it will be donated to the food bank. The partnership will help to ensure no produce is wasted, and is going to people in need.”

It’s clear that in Fort Nelson, the IMAGINE Community Grant seed funding has grown into something pretty impressive!


IMAGINE Community Grants provide funding to community organizations, service agencies, First Nations bands and organizations, schools, municipalities, regional districts, not-for-profits, and other partners with projects that make northern communities healthier. We are looking for applications that will support our efforts to prevent chronic disease and injury, and improve overall well-being in our communities. At the time of this story’s publication, the deadline for the next cycle of IMAGINE Community Grants is March 31, 2017.

Vince Terstappen

About Vince Terstappen

Vince Terstappen is a Project Assistant with the health promotions team at Northern Health. He has an undergraduate and graduate degree in the area of community health and is passionate about upstream population health issues. Born and raised in Calgary, Vince lived, studied, and worked in Saskatoon, Victoria, and Vancouver before moving to Vanderhoof in 2012. When not cooking or baking, he enjoys speedskating, gardening, playing soccer, attending local community events, and Skyping with his old community health classmates who are scattered across the world. Vince works with Northern Health program areas to share healthy living stories and tips through the blog and moderates all comments for the Northern Health Matters blog. (Vince no longer works with Northern Health, we wish him all the best.)

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“Local solutions to local problems”: The Open Gate Garden Project in McBride

Northern Health’s IMAGINE Community Grants provide funding to a variety of groups with projects that make northern communities healthier. Our hope is that these innovative projects inspire healthy community actions where you live! Check out the story below and read more IMAGINE Community Grant stories.


Garden entrance gate

For project organizers, the Open Gate Garden in McBride demonstrates “local solutions to local problems.”

The Robson Valley Community Learning Project in McBride received an IMAGINE grant for their Open Gate Garden Project.

We recently checked in with the project and asked how their story might inspire others. Here’s what they shared:

One of the interesting aspects of our story is that the Open Gate Garden has become established during a major economic downturn. Our project seems to be demonstrating local solutions to local problems.

The principles of inclusion, diversity and consensus structure the work of the Community Literacy Task Group. For this reason, most of the gardeners take ownership for the project and there is a high level of unity and commitment. The Open Gate Garden is an example of what is possible when we work together, using our gifts and combining our skills. Growing food is what most of the old timers in the community know how to do. For the newcomers, like the retired urban teachers, it’s what they want to learn. There is a transmission of knowledge in an easy and relaxed manner.

Potatoes dug up and laying above ground.

Potatoes grown and sold as part of the community garden project help to sustain the Open Gate Garden.

The metaphor of ‘community as a garden’ and/or ‘garden as a community’ could be used to tell this story. Our garden design is an asset to the McBride community because of its beauty. The beds are as unique as the gardeners who tend them.

Others would be inspired by the possibility that a healthy community can come from the wide range of folks that reside there. We believe that building the capacity, the optimum human resources of the tiny population in our valley, is what it will take to restore a stable economy. So often, we hear about ‘attracting outside investments’ to solve our economic problems. Yet, we all eat. There is a market for locally grown, whole foods. Most are aware of threats to food security, climate change, and environmental devastation. Surely developing independent food systems could be a start to establishing a local economy! Our story shows that community gardening is a start. From this start, engaged citizens are emerging, other related projects are blossoming, folks are becoming connected, and we are beginning to generate revenues from growing potatoes to sustain the Open Gate Garden.

Woman bagging potatoes

“We walk, bend, stretch, dig, rake, shovel and eat fresh, local food. We co-operate, collaborate and communicate in meaningful ways. Gardening together in the Open Gate Garden is a real joy.”

We also asked Nancy Taylor, Community Literacy Outreach Coordinator (pictured during harvest time in the garden), about the impact of the Open Gate Garden and the IMAGINE Community Grant they received:

Our IMAGINE grant funding has helped to pay for the infrastructure of the Open Gate Garden where lots of good stuff happens. Folks from all walks of life are included in the project. We share information, skills, and knowledge. We walk, bend, stretch, dig, rake, shovel, and eat fresh, local food. We co-operate, collaborate, and communicate in meaningful ways. Gardening together in the Open Gate Garden is a real joy. We are grateful for the support we have received from Northern Health. Our community is healthier because of the Open Gate Garden.

What project might serve as a start in your community? You can start planning now because the next call out for IMAGINE Community Grants is coming soon!


IMAGINE Community Grants provide funding to community organizations, service agencies, First Nations bands and organizations, schools, municipalities, regional districts, not-for-profits, and other partners with projects that make northern communities healthier. We are looking for applications that will support our efforts to prevent chronic disease and injury, and improve overall well-being in our communities. The next call out for IMAGINE Community Grants will be September 19, 2016.

Vince Terstappen

About Vince Terstappen

Vince Terstappen is a Project Assistant with the health promotions team at Northern Health. He has an undergraduate and graduate degree in the area of community health and is passionate about upstream population health issues. Born and raised in Calgary, Vince lived, studied, and worked in Saskatoon, Victoria, and Vancouver before moving to Vanderhoof in 2012. When not cooking or baking, he enjoys speedskating, gardening, playing soccer, attending local community events, and Skyping with his old community health classmates who are scattered across the world. Vince works with Northern Health program areas to share healthy living stories and tips through the blog and moderates all comments for the Northern Health Matters blog. (Vince no longer works with Northern Health, we wish him all the best.)

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Making Christmas food hampers healthier: You can make a difference!

Cans of non-perishable food items

Are you donating food to an organization in your community this season? Choosing healthier food options is very important for households living with food insecurity as they have a greater risk of poorer health and increased chronic conditions.

December is a month we look forward to for all the wonderful holiday celebrations, sharing with our families and friends, and for giving. Sadly, not all families are financially stable enough to have the basic necessities they need, such as food. In communities across northern B.C., hard-working organizations are gearing up for food drives. This year, I want to challenge you to make an even bigger difference in the lives of families across our region by donating healthier foods to these initiatives.

If you, your family or an organization you belong to are donating to food banks this year, I encourage you to focus your donations on healthier foods for families. Food banks really need healthier food donations so they can make healthier Christmas food hampers for the groups they serve.

What do I suggest? Use Canada’s Food Guide! Here’s the shopping list I came up with:

  • Non-perishable and nutritious food suggestions for meat and alternatives (which provide essential protein, vitamins, and minerals) include: canned salmon, tuna, sardines, chicken, beef chillies, ham, corned beef, a variety of beans (brown beans in tomato sauce, kidney, garbanzo, mixed beans), and peanut butter.
  • Non-perishable and nutritious food suggestions for vegetables and fruit (which provide essential vitamins, minerals, and complex carbohydrates as well as fiber) include: canned tomatoes, mixed veggies, peas, green or yellow beans, corn, beets, and fruit such as peaches, pears, mixed fruits (with no added syrup or pear juice) and apple sauce.

Highly processed foods are often high in fat, salt, and sugar so choose the more nutritious items if you can.

Why are healthier food donations so important?

Choosing healthier food options is very important for households living with food insecurity as they have a greater risk of poorer health and increased chronic conditions. This concept – food insecurity – is an important one to think about this holiday season.

For many of us, financial stability is something we enjoy and may even take for granted. This is not the case for many families and they can become food insecure. Food insecurity exists:

Whenever the availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods or the ability to acquire acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways is limited or uncertain.” (Hamelin, A., et. al., 2002)

This is the case for 1 in 8 households in Canada. This rate is even higher in homes that receive their income from minimum wages, part-time jobs, workers compensation, employment insurance or social assistance; are First Nation, Métis or Inuit; have children (especially with a lone mother); are homeless; are new immigrants; or have chronic health problems. Food insecurity is caused by financial constraints when income is too low or unsteady and there is not enough money left over to pay for enough healthy food after paying for necessities such as housing, utilities, transportation, and health expenses.

Look up your local food bank to find out where and when to drop off your healthy food donations for this season of giving. The Prince George Citizen recently profiled four local Christmas Food Hamper programs in Prince George.

Loraina Stephen

About Loraina Stephen

Loraina is a population health dietitian working in a regional lead role for external food policy, which supports initiatives to develop healthy eating, community food security and food policy for the north. Loraina was born and raised in the north, and has a busy lifestyle. Having grown up enjoying food grown from family gardens, hunting, and gathering, and enjoying northern outdoor activities, she draws on those experiences to keep traditions strong for her family, in her work and at play. (Loraina no longer works with Northern Health, we wish her all the best.)

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Foodie Friday: Enjoy B.C.’s bounty this summer

Grilled corn and tomatoes on a table.

How are you enjoying B.C.’s bounty this long weekend? Grill some local corn, pull some tomatoes from the vine, and give Marianne’s salad a try!

Summertime in B.C. is awesome! We can get outside and enjoy our favourite activities like hiking, camping, fishing, and swimming throughout our amazing province. It’s also a great time to up our healthy eating game as our gardens, farmers markets, and grocery stores are filled with fresh B.C. produce! I know I can hardly wait for those summer months when I can finally sink my teeth into B.C.-grown nectarines, raspberries, corn on the cob, and more.

There are many benefits to enjoying B.C.-grown fruits and vegetables

  • Local produce is the freshest produce you can buy – it’s picked ripe and ready to eat and delivered to you quickly, especially if it’s coming from your own backyard! This means it tastes better, looks better, and retains more nutrients.
  • Local produce is better for the environment – fruit and vegetables grown in other countries have to travel long distances and require more packaging to make it to your plate.
  • Choosing B.C. produce supports our local economies – when you choose B.C. produce at the grocery store or shop at your local farmers market you are supporting those producers in your community.

Whether you grow your own, visit your local farmers market, or shop at the grocery store, there are plenty of opportunities to enjoy the bounty of B.C. And what better time to do so than this B.C. Day long weekend! If you are hosting a BBQ, having a lakeside picnic, or going to a potluck, try out this crowd-pleasing salad. It’s packed full of flavour and uses a variety of produce you can find growing in our awesome province.

Happy B.C. Day everyone!

Salad and dressing

This grilled corn, arugula, and couscous salad is a celebration of B.C. produce. Enjoy it at your next BBQ, lakeside picnic, or family gathering!

Grilled corn, arugula, and couscous salad

Adapted from The Wellness Kitchen Cookbook, by Paulette Lambert, RD

Serves 6-8

Ingredients

Salad

  • 1 cup water
  • ⅔ cup whole wheat couscous
  • 3 cups arugula
  • 3 vine-ripened tomatoes, diced
  • 3 ears of corn, grilled and kernels cut from cob
  • 1 avocado, diced
  • ⅓ cup roasted pumpkin seeds
  • ⅓ cup dried cranberries or cherries
  • ⅓ cup grated Parmesan cheese

Dressing

  • ½ cup fresh basil leaves, packed
  • ½ cup buttermilk
  • ½ cup mayonnaise
  • Juice of ½ lemon
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp black pepper

Instructions

  1. In a small saucepan, bring 1 cup of water to a boil. Stir in couscous, remove from heat, and allow to sit for 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork and allow to cool.
  2. In a large salad bowl, toss couscous, arugula, tomatoes, corn, avocado, pumpkin seeds, cranberries. Set aside.
  3. For the dressing, in a blender or food processor, add basil, buttermilk, mayonnaise, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Blend until smooth.
  4. To serve, toss the salad with the dressing, then sprinkle Parmesan cheese over the top.

Tips

  • Keep the dressing and salad separate until you are ready to serve to avoid soggy arugula.
  • You can also replace the couscous with quinoa or millet to make it gluten-free.
Marianne Bloudoff

About Marianne Bloudoff

Born and raised in BC, Marianne moved from Vancouver to Prince George in January 2014. She is a Registered Dietitian with Northern Health's population health team. Her passion for food and nutrition lured her away from her previous career in Fisheries Management. Now, instead of counting fish, she finds herself educating people on their health benefits. In her spare time, Marianne can be found experimenting in the kitchen and writing about it on her food blog, as well as exploring everything northern B.C. has to offer.

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A Healthier You (May 2015)

Cover of A Healthier You

The May 2015 issue of A Healthier You is all about local food and gardening, with tips, tricks, and insights for the north, from the north!

If you’re anything like me, this week’s sunny weather – which seems to be warming every corner of our region – has you thinking about gardening. Since moving to northern B.C. a few years ago, I’ve come to realize that for many, the May long weekend is the opening day of gardening season. The other thing I’ve noticed is that local gardening knowledge can be hard to find! Sure, there are books about patio gardening in Vancouver or kitchen gardens on Vancouver Island, but our zones seem to be forgotten!

This is why I’m so excited that the newest issue of Northern Health’s quarterly healthy living magazine, A Healthier You, is now available. The issue, available online and in print in various locations around the north, is all about local food and gardening!

For me, a few highlights in this issue include:

  • Tips on how to make the most of our short growing season.
  • How gardening, berry-picking, and farmers market visits can help me get my minimum 150 minutes of weekly physical activity.
  • Valuable information on how to stay safe while fishing this spring and summer (because, let’s be honest, while the May long weekend is the start of gardening season for me, it’s the start of boating season for others!).
  • Some insights on how my humble garden might tie into big picture issues of food security and healthy communities.
  • A jealousy-inducing look at local food on Haida Gwaii.

I hope that you enjoy the newest issue of the magazine! And remember that all past issues are also available online!

Vince Terstappen

About Vince Terstappen

Vince Terstappen is a Project Assistant with the health promotions team at Northern Health. He has an undergraduate and graduate degree in the area of community health and is passionate about upstream population health issues. Born and raised in Calgary, Vince lived, studied, and worked in Saskatoon, Victoria, and Vancouver before moving to Vanderhoof in 2012. When not cooking or baking, he enjoys speedskating, gardening, playing soccer, attending local community events, and Skyping with his old community health classmates who are scattered across the world. Vince works with Northern Health program areas to share healthy living stories and tips through the blog and moderates all comments for the Northern Health Matters blog. (Vince no longer works with Northern Health, we wish him all the best.)

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Community Health Stars: Peter Nielsen

One of the neatest things about the Community Health Stars program has been the range of amazing activities that residents of northern B.C. take on to make their communities healthier places to live, work, and play. From promoting healthy eating in Terrace schools to walking around the world in Valemount, Community Health Stars represent a wide range of passions, communities, and activities.

As a resident of Quesnel deeply committed to helping seniors, Northern Health’s Community Health Star for the month of March adds to this outstanding variety! In addition, the issues that this month’s Community Health Star works on have a lot in common with the key findings of Northern Health’s 2013 community consultation, Let’s talk about Healthy Aging and Seniors’ Wellness. Northern Health is pleased to name Peter Nielsen as this month’s Community Health Star!

Peter is a retiree who has always had a passion for helping seniors. He has created and supported several groups to address a wide range of issues impacting seniors and I had the pleasure of chatting with Peter during a rare break in between his many community engagements!

Could you tell me a little bit about yourself?

Group of five individuals stand in front of a sign announcing the future location of the Quesnel Seniors Housing Project.

Northern Health’s Community Health Star for the month of March is Peter Nielsen. Peter is active in seniors issues in Quesnel and has played a key role in work on a local seniors housing project.

After working in home care on Vancouver Island for several years, I returned to Quesnel (where I first moved in 1971) to be with family nearly 10 years ago.

My passion for helping seniors started at a young age. When I was 13, my family took in an older friend who needed ongoing care and I took on a lot of those caregiving tasks. I related well to this individual and have found that I relate well to all seniors. I especially enjoy hearing their amazing stories!

To pursue this passion, since moving back to Quesnel, I’ve gotten involved with the Lions Club, the Lions Housing Society, and the Fraser Village Home Society. I also started the Voice for North Cariboo Seniors.

What does a healthy community look like to you?

For me, a healthy community meets the needs of everyone. For seniors in particular, meeting their needs includes a few different considerations, and I have tried to be involved in all of these issues in Quesnel:

  • Affordable housing for seniors
  • Food security
  • The ability to make ends meet
  • Affordable medical supplies and pharmaceuticals
  • Accessible spaces
  • Social support

I think that housing and the safety and security that brings is so important for seniors’ well-being. To support that goal, I became president of the Lions Housing Society, a group working to build an independent living housing complex in Quesnel. We just purchased the land for the project and I’m excited to see construction starting soon! I also sit on the board of the Fraser Village Home Society.

Through the Lions Club, we also build ramps for seniors and others in wheelchairs. We buy the material and then have a work bee to build, paint, and secure the ramps.

Social support for seniors is crucial, too! Through a group that we formed a few years ago, we visit a residential care facility in Quesnel during the holidays to give gifts, decorate, and spend time with the residents – I was even Santa one year!

Looking ahead, I’d like to look at ways to support widowers who are struggling with loneliness and isolation. I think that a gathering place would go a long way towards making them healthier and more connected.

When it comes to seniors’ ability to meet their needs, one thing that a lot of people don’t know is that not all seniors collect a full Old Age Security pension or draw from the Canada Pension Plan. Many farmers and ranchers grew up pinching pennies and would have been living day-to-day so often didn’t contribute to government programs during their working years. Now, these individuals are struggling to make ends meet. Seniors are very proud people, too, so even in situations like this, they hesitate to ask for help. The onus is on us all to step up, check in with our older neighbours, and make sure that they are OK.

Although seniors issues take up most of my time and a special place in my heart, through the Lions, I am also able to support the Two Rivers Boxing Club in Quesnel. This local boxing club provides young people with a place to gather, be active, and develop their self-esteem. The local coach pays for a lot of expenses out-of-pocket so the Lions and I do what we can to offset the costs of tournaments, travel, and other club activities.

How did you get involved in seniors issues?

Man lifting a grocery bag out of a truck.

Peter’s message for others in northern B.C. is simple: “check on your neighbours. If you know a senior, keep an eye on them.” After checking on some of his neighbours, Peter identified food security as an important issue facing seniors and began to make regular deliveries of healthy food to seniors in need.

It’s been a soft spot in my life, all my life! I enjoy talking to seniors; I always have. I find them very interesting and appreciate their stories. They can often be a forgotten group but I love them and I gravitate towards them.

When we moved back to Quesnel – having worked with seniors for some time – I noticed a few things in our community that were missing for seniors. My wife became my sounding board and eventually she got tired and just said “do something about it!” And I did! I created Voice for North Cariboo Seniors three years ago. This group holds monthly meetings where seniors can come together to learn about different issues. We had someone talk about taxes last month, we share information from the RCMP about scams targeting seniors, and we’ve brought in Northern Health to discuss health issues. We’ve got 150 seniors on our call list to invite to each meeting!

I’m also involved in delivering food to seniors in need. As a group, we drop off healthy food options to 50-60 seniors every month. The Lions Club and other community members support us with food donations. The focus on food started with a visit to a senior’s home where I saw only cat food in the fridge but no cat. This was so sad to witness and sparked a passion for me to look at food issues that seniors face.

One of the reasons that I got involved and have stayed involved is that seniors don’t like people knowing their plight. I have found seniors to be very proud – they’re scared of being recognized in a donation line – and often they go without instead of asking for help.

What does “healthy aging” mean to you?

For me, healthy aging means respect for seniors in all aspects. It means seniors being able to live in safe, low-cost, and healthy places. It means being aware of seniors issues since they are so often a blind spot for so many of us.

What would you like to say to other residents of northern B.C.?

It’s simple: check on your neighbours. If you know a senior, keep an eye on them. Drop off some baking and say hello! Winter can be especially difficult for seniors because of slips and falls.

And remember that often, seniors won’t come to you for help. So look out for them, keep your eyes open.

It only takes a couple of people to get something amazing started!


The Northern Health Community Health Stars program shines a light on community members across northern B.C. who, like Peter, are doing exceptional work, on their own time, to promote health and wellness in their community. To nominate a Community Health Star in your community, visit the Northern Health website.

Vince Terstappen

About Vince Terstappen

Vince Terstappen is a Project Assistant with the health promotions team at Northern Health. He has an undergraduate and graduate degree in the area of community health and is passionate about upstream population health issues. Born and raised in Calgary, Vince lived, studied, and worked in Saskatoon, Victoria, and Vancouver before moving to Vanderhoof in 2012. When not cooking or baking, he enjoys speedskating, gardening, playing soccer, attending local community events, and Skyping with his old community health classmates who are scattered across the world. Vince works with Northern Health program areas to share healthy living stories and tips through the blog and moderates all comments for the Northern Health Matters blog. (Vince no longer works with Northern Health, we wish him all the best.)

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