Healthy Living in the North

“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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Planting seeds, fighting stigma, and growing community: Healthy Minds Community Garden

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.


Fox in a community garden

How can a community garden reduce stigma around mental health concerns? The Healthy Minds Community Garden in Fort St. James accomplished just that – promoting social connections and healthy lifestyles along the way!

The Healthy Minds Peer Support group in Fort St. James offers a safe and confidential venue for those impacted by mental and emotional health issues. The group aims to break isolation, promote healthy lifestyles, support integration into the community, and reduce stigma around mental health concerns. Healthy Minds Peer Support also organizes public awareness campaigns with speakers from the RCMP and local mental health practitioners. They meet every Monday at 7:00 p.m. at the Stuart Lake Hospital and welcome everyone to join them.

At first glance, one might ask how a community garden fits into this vision. For facilitators and Mental Health & Addictions Advisory Committee members Greg Kovacs and Sandi Taylor, there are so many worthwhile connections between a community garden and mental wellness. They highlighted these when they first proposed this project to the IMAGINE Community Grant program:

A healthy diet of fruits and vegetables and physical activity can reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, cancer, and mental health problems. We also know working with the soil, planting, and harvesting is therapeutic and conducive to those on their road to recovery and healthy living principles. Community gardens have proven successful in numerous communities worldwide in providing valuable educational tools and skills acquisition for those most in need.

For Kovacs and Taylor, there was a crucial social piece to this project, too:

Isolated mental health clients gain socialization skills, confidence, and practical life-affirming experience. [The garden] is a great way to keep fit, socialize, and an excellent form of therapeutic exercise for participants.

After a successful IMAGINE Community Grant application in 2015, Kovacs, Taylor, and the rest of the Healthy Minds Peer Support group got to work.

Empty lot

A look at the garden space before the Healthy Minds Community Garden took shape. Construction involved over 50 volunteers and over 1,500 volunteer hours.

How did the project go? Kovacs and Taylor provided an inspiring update:

This project exceeded expectations on many levels. The construction of the garden space involved over 50 volunteers, from children to seniors across all socioeconomic and racial divides. Together, we logged over 1,500 volunteer hours. This garden has provided socialization opportunities [and] improved the mental and physical health of many community members. Through these interactions, awareness of mental health, physical health, and environmental health has been raised.

Two classes from David Hoy Elementary School helped in the construction and planting of garden beds. The grade 9 woodworking class from the high school built two flower garden beds for us. We also had involvement from adult mental health service users. Friendships were made, and a sense of community bonding was achieved. We were able to produce many pounds of fresh, organic vegetables – from lettuce to corn and peppers. Also, with seven local newspaper articles on the garden project, mental health and community gardening has been highlighted, and these topics have become common conversations around all community events. Raising awareness of mental health is the first step in reducing, and eventually eliminating stigma around it.

Community garden

A look at the completed garden space reveals the transformation that took place. For the project coordinators, a similar transformation occurred in the lives of those involved in the garden as the “unifying space” helped them to develop social connections.

One of the most important goals of sharing projects supported by IMAGINE Community Grants is the opportunity to share the lessons learned from different projects. Everyone who has been involved in a big project – whether it’s a personal home renovation, organizing a local sporting event, or getting a project off of the ground in a community – knows that it’s not always rainbows and sunshine! With the benefit of hindsight, Kovacs and Taylor shared what they learned:

All in all, it has been a very positive experience. There were, however, some challenges. It was difficult to get people involved in the actual construction. A lot of skilled labour was required, and in short supply … Being the project lead, it was difficult at times to gauge the skill level of volunteers … Volunteers often require close supervision. It is important to allow people some freedom, while discerning what projects they can succeed at. We could have used some more help with the administrative duties … If we undertook this type of project in the future, we would not make funding applications, or commitments, until we had people committed to certain duties.

The takeaway for Kovacs and Taylor, though?

The successes greatly exceeded the challenges. We have been approached by many strangers complimenting the work our group is doing. The word is out, and most of our beds are already reserved for the 2016 planting season. This garden is poised to become a new standard in community gardening. With a focus on aesthetics, as opposed to just food production, our garden has become a popular lunch, and socialization place for local workers and all community members. There is a lot of pride in this community garden. It is known as a very tranquil and serene sanctuary, overlooking the beautiful Stuart Lake. Seeing the faces of people who see the garden for the first time—priceless! … Be prepared to get projects off the ground with a few dedicated and imaginative people, and once things begin to take shape, others will join.

Two people paint a sign.

Volunteers put the finishing touches on the sign welcoming gardeners, guests, and visitors to the Healthy Minds Community Garden in Fort St. James.

The impact of the Healthy Minds Community Garden and the Healthy Minds Peer Support group really comes to light when you ask Kovacs and Taylor for one thing that they want to share about the project:

It is extremely difficult to list only one, as there are so many! … The greatest benefit, among many, is that of community bonding, or socialization. People that would not normally mix are working, laughing, and talking with each other. With so many phenomena dividing people in society today, the garden is a unifying space. One participant in particular, who wishes to remain anonymous, has been suffering from a life-threatening illness and has been isolating for over a year. We managed to get her out to the garden one day, and that resulted in her riding a bicycle to the garden every weekend to help and mostly just to socialize. She has reserved a garden bed for 2016. Largely as a result of stigma, many people experiencing mental health issues suffer in silence. Our objective is to reach as many of these people as possible, and the Healthy Minds Community Garden is accomplishing this. We also have to mention that the health benefits of growing and eating whole foods has not been lost on those participating in the garden.

Clearly unable to contain their excitement, pride, and desire to share more about the community garden, Kovacs and Taylor’s “one thing” continues to a list of community partners:

The involvement of the school kids, and the excitement in their eyes when they see what they have grown, is priceless. We believe that many of those kids will continue to garden and eat healthy throughout their lives. We also have to mention that the school this year is going to plant three beds as a result of the success of the program.

We have also reserved a bed for the Key Resource Centre in Fort St. James, and two beds are reserved for a local women’s wellness group. So far, we have two beds reserved for seniors as well. We have built two extra height beds for people with mobility issues. The entire garden is wheelchair accessible. We strongly believe that this garden will continue to grow and be of great benefit to all in this small community.

This project is, beyond any reasonable doubt, a resounding success.

Garden bed

Growing so much more than just healthy, local food, the community garden has become first and foremost a health-promoting gathering space where people can connect.

Do you have ideas to promote social connections, reduce stigma, boost healthy eating, and make your community healthier? Start gathering your team and brainstorming your project – the next round of IMAGINE Community Grants will start September 19, 2016.


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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What are your ideas?

Room full of people

If you have ideas to help people get healthier, start sharing them! In Prince George, PechaKucha provided one way to share ideas. How does your community share ideas?

Are you happy and healthy? Do you belong to any groups in your community, go to school, or work in a place where you want to see people become healthier? Do you have family and friends who care about you and you care about them? Do you eat healthy foods, get some exercise, stay away from tobacco, and wear safety gear?

As more people in the north become healthier, we all win. What do we win, you might ask? We all win safe and healthy communities filled with healthy families and people of all ages!

How can you build a healthier community?

This is why Northern Health wants to listen to the ideas you and your community have to become healthier. This is why we fund community-based health promotion projects to make you and all of the people you see around you where you live, work, learn and play become safer, healthier and happier.

The health promotion projects that northern schools, groups and communities are doing together are amazing. Project ideas are sometimes very simple and sometimes they can be very complicated, but they all have one thing in common:

Someone had an idea to help the people around them become healthier.

We all have ideas about how things could be better, but we don’t always share them. Sharing your idea can be such a great idea!

There is a very interesting way that people of all ages from around the world are telling stories and sharing their ideas. It’s called PechaKucha and it isn’t as hard to pronounce as it looks, but you may want to jot it down because it might be a new idea to you.

Stories are a powerful way to share ideas and also learn from others ideas. People of all ages are using PechaKucha to share their ideas and stories in short, simple ways. The idea is that you tell a story by showing 20 images for 20 seconds each. Any community or group can do PechaKucha; all you need is an idea or story to share.

In Prince George, Northern Health helped fund a local group of northern storytellers to get started. You can explore their stories and lots of others at the PechaKucha site.

Here is the question again: Do you have ideas to help people become healthier?

The next question is: Do you share them? If you have ideas to help people get healthier, start sharing them! Your idea might one day help your community become safer, happier and healthier.

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.

-Margaret Mead

Room full of people


About the IMAGINE Grants

Northern Health’s IMAGINE Grants fund health promotion projects by community partners, including northern groups/organizations and schools or districts, to support the health and wellness of northerners where they live, work, learn, and play. Ideas for projects are inspired and guided by Northern Health’s Position Statements. We’re happy to have an ongoing series of blog posts that will highlight past recipients of IMAGINE Grants and share their great work with you!

 

Christine Glennie-Visser

About Christine Glennie-Visser

Christine is the regional coordinator for the HEAL (Healthy Eating, Active Living) Network in northern B.C. Christine loves to share good healthy local food with family, friends and co-workers and is passionate about making the healthy choice the easier choice for everyone. Although she is currently limited in her physical activity choices for medical reasons, she has become creative at fitting in activity and spends many happy hours deep water running and using gentle resistance training and stretching to maintain muscle strength. Christine can often be found in her kitchen, developing or testing recipes, and conspiring with her six grandchildren to encourage their parents to eat more fruits and vegetables! (Christine no longer works with Northern Health, we wish her all the best.)

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IMAGINE grant: CHAAPS Summer Camps

Two horses with riders in riding arena.

The Cariboo Hoofbeats Assisted Activity Program Society (CHAAPS) gives people living with mental and physical disabilities the chance to interact with horses, providing participants with all sorts of health benefits!

If the bond between rider and horse is understood anywhere in northern B.C., Quesnel is certainly a top candidate. Host of the Quesnel Rodeo – one of the largest annual rodeos in Western Canada – the town is also home to events by the Cariboo Hoofbeats Assisted Activity Program Society (CHAAPS), a group that highlights the same relationship you’d see at the rodeo, but with slightly less fanfare and a very different purpose. CHAAPS gives people living with mental and physical disabilities the chance to interact with horses, providing participants with:

  • Physical and mental exercise and stimulation in a safe and secure environment
  • Education and hands-on experience handling an animal
  • Emotional well-being

It also offers the bond mentioned above. “The companionship of animals decreases loneliness and stimulates conversation,” said Angela Mezzatesta, program director with CHAAPS, “By encouraging touch and giving program participants a responsive animal to work with, interaction with them motivates physical reactions that are very necessary and important in humans. Many times, animals give attention to a person who otherwise might not receive as much. They stimulate exercise, encourage laughter, and facilitate social contact. These benefits add up to an improved sense of well-being.”

Two girls grooming a horse with support from adult.

CHAAPS is making a difference in the community! What types of initiatives support healthy communities where you live?

A recipient of a 2014 IMAGINE grant, CHAAPS operates on a shoestring budget, providing a series of summer camps as well as daily riding sessions to its participants. Regardless of budget, the program is clearly making a difference in the community, one person at a time. “The program helped an 8 year old girl develop patience, build empathy and awareness, and care for others,” said Angela, “Her mother says she’s seen her daughter grow from coming to CHAAPS, telling us:

She sits – this is hard for her – on this horse and is in control of this big thing. It’s living so she can feel it breathing. She has to concentrate her attention – which is very short – and she does this when she is riding. We haven’t been able to get her to do this in other settings. This improves her focusing ability, which is one of our goals. By coming here, she’s learned to be gentle and take care of animals, not scare them. Attending the program has helped her to settle down and be more mindful of living creatures and this is now transferring to others who are around her.

Woman in wheelchair petting a horse.

CHAAPS has been making a difference through therapeutic riding programs in Quesnel since 2008.

Helping people in Quesnel since 2008, CHAAPS is a certified member of the Canadian Therapeutic Riding Association (CanTRA), a registered charity that promotes challenge, achievement, and empowerment for children and adults with disabilities through the use of horses. CanTRA also provides education and instructor certification and offers accreditation to therapeutic riding centres. Additionally, CHAAPS is a member of the BC Therapeutic Riding Association (BCTRA) and the Horse Council of BC (HCBC).


About the IMAGINE Grants

Northern Health’s IMAGINE Grants fund health promotion projects by community partners, including northern groups/organizations and schools or districts, to support the health and wellness of northerners where they live, work, learn, and play. Ideas for projects are inspired and guided by Northern Health’s Position Statements. We’re happy to introduce an ongoing series of blog posts that will highlight past recipients of IMAGINE Grants and share their great work with you!

Mike Erickson

About Mike Erickson

Mike Erickson is the Project Assistant in Health Promotions. He started at Northern Health in October of 2013. Mike grew up in the Lower Mainland and has called Prince George home since 2007, when he moved here to pursue a career in radio. In his spare time, Mike enjoys spending time with friends and family, watching sports, reading, and ice fishing. His favourite thing about the north is the slower pace of life and the fact that he no longer has to worry about traffic every morning.

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IMAGINE Grants profile: Kids Helping Kids

Children take part in an exercise at a Kids Helping Kids event.

Children take part in an exercise at a Kids Helping Kids event.

When two grade seven students at Immaculate Conception Elementary School in Prince George observed that many of their classmates were leading sedentary lifestyles, their principal challenged them to educate their peers to be more physically active. They responded by recruiting more students, Action Schools! B.C., the City of Prince George, and School District 57 to create “Kids Helping Kids” – an IMAGINE Grant funded program that promotes the immediate and future benefits of healthy eating and physical activity.

The growth of the program throughout School District 57 has been remarkable. “The first year was run as a pilot project with independent schools,” explained Sue McDonald, Coordinator with Kids Helping Kids. “Year two, the program was offered to approximately half of the schools in the area, and last year it was offered to all schools in the Prince George area.” According to McDonald, the next phase of Kids Helping Kids is to expand beyond Prince George with the intention to “firmly embed [healthy eating and physical activity] as part of each school’s culture, truly making a difference in the future.”

Students take leadership roles, teaching other students about the value of nutrition.

Students take leadership roles, teaching other students about the value of nutrition.

Along with the program’s expansion, Kids Helping Kids is unique because of its peer-to-peer emphasis that teaches students life-long leadership skills. “…I am so thankful to have been in a leadership role,” said David, a School District 57 student and Kids Helping Kids participant, “teaching younger students and making a difference in their lives.”

“I went from a 15-year-old boy who could barely run a kilometre to a 17-year-old who is healthy, happy, and physically fit,” David continued, describing the impact that the program has had on his life. “I learned keeping healthy isn’t just about being more physically active. It’s about eating properly and making sure you’re not having too many candies, not eating that box of cookies that you have in your cupboard. It is keeping yourself running around, playing games and having fun with what you do. [Taking part in the program] was a lot of work, but it is one of the best decisions I have ever made. It was also one of the hardest.”

Northern Health couldn’t be more proud of Kids Helping Kids and of children like David.

About the IMAGINE Grants

Northern Health’s IMAGINE Grants fund health promotion projects by community partners, including northern groups/organizations and schools or districts, to support the health and wellness of northerners where they live, work, learn, and play. Ideas for projects are inspired and guided by Northern Health’s Position Statements. We’re happy to introduce an ongoing series of blog posts that will highlight past recipients of IMAGINE Grants and share their great work with you!

Mike Erickson

About Mike Erickson

Mike Erickson is the Project Assistant in Health Promotions. He started at Northern Health in October of 2013. Mike grew up in the Lower Mainland and has called Prince George home since 2007, when he moved here to pursue a career in radio. In his spare time, Mike enjoys spending time with friends and family, watching sports, reading, and ice fishing. His favourite thing about the north is the slower pace of life and the fact that he no longer has to worry about traffic every morning.

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IMAGINE: Legacy Grants – Deadline Extended to July 11

IMAGINE grantsLast month, we told you about the great opportunity to apply for an IMAGINE: Legacy Grant (see previous post). You have one more week to send us your applications – the deadline has been extended to Friday, July 11!

This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for northern B.C. communities, schools, organizations and individuals of all ages to be inspired by the upcoming 2015 Canada Winter Games and apply for funding towards a health promotion or disease/injury-prevention project that will help improve health through physical activity. Apply now! As a reminder, here are the details:

What are IMAGINE: Legacy Grants?
A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to leverage the positive impact of the 2015 Canada Winter Games in fostering a sustainable legacy of increased health and wellness for northern communities and their residents, which will last beyond the two-week event in Prince George and Northern B.C. – where they live, work, learn and play.

Types of IMAGINE: Legacy Grants available:
In the spirit of the 2015 Canada Winter Games, we are asking for health promotion or disease or injury prevention projects with a focus on physical activity that may also include other key health promotion goals including: injury prevention, tobacco-free communities, healthy eating (HE), active living (AL), HEAL for Your Heart, prevention of problematic substance use, HIV prevention, harm reduction and chronic disease prevention.  For more information, please visit our IMAGINE Grants site.

The grants fund health promotion or disease or injury prevention projects that:

  • Focus on physical activity and at least one other key health promotion goal – considering the upcoming 2015 Canada Winter Games and how the Games can be leveraged to inspire community health
  • Last – your project has a good chance of living on after the funding ends
  • Make a difference – your project will broadly impact community in a positive way
  • Reduce health inequities – your project will help support those who are disadvantaged or marginalized
  • Build relationships – your project will help people connect to each other and their community and share successes
  • Support collaboration & partnerships – your project will encourage diverse groups to work together toward a common goal
  • Improve health – your project will reduce the risks and impacts of chronic illnesses and injuries

Deadline for applications has been extended to July 11, 2014. Apply now!

Jessica Quinn

About Jessica Quinn

Jessica Quinn is the regional manager of health promotion and community engagement for Northern Health, where she is actively involved in promoting the great work of NH staff to encourage healthy, well and active lifestyles. She also manages NH's social media channels (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc). When she's not working, Jessica stays active by exploring the beautiful outdoors around Prince George via kayak, hiking boots or snowshoes, and she has recently completed her master's degree in professional communications from Royal Roads University, with a focus on the use of social media in health care.

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