Healthy Living in the North

Sharing the local harvest (and September Healthy Living Challenge #4)

Julie and her Good Food Box

Julie with her latest Good Food Box local veggie haul.

In a country where grocery store shelves are always well stocked with a variety of foods that travel thousands of kilometers from all around the world, it’s easy to lose track of where our food comes from and what it’s made of. We tend to fall into routine shopping and forget to scan the produce section for foods that are locally gown, in season and perhaps a different kind that we’ve never eaten before. For the last several years, I’ve participated in our local Good Food Box program, in order to expand my family’s food horizons and support our local food producers. On the third Wednesday of every month, for $15 paid in advance, I pick up two grocery bags filled with produce. Whenever possible, the produce is sourced from local farmers and food producers and consists of what is currently in season (although into the winter, as northern root cellars run low, the contents start to come from farther afield). It’s often organic and is always fresh and tasty.

Our Good Food Box program coordinator in Prince George, Jovanka Djordjevich, always includes a newsletter with a thought-provoking editorial piece about local food system sustainability and healthy food choices, a list of the products included in the order and where they were sourced, and recipes to help us use the less familiar items in the order (you’d be amazed at the variety of things that can be done with kale and cabbage!).

Good Food Box days are a monthly highlight in our house -and in my parents’ home too – as we share responsibility for pick-up and swap items based on our household needs and preferences.  I make soups and borscht to share, so all the cabbage comes to me; my mother operates a family daycare, so she may use extra carrots and apples as snacks for the children. Opening the bags is a bit like Christmas, because you don’t know what you’re getting in advance.

Planning meals to incorporate unexpected dill, bok choy, local mushrooms or fresh Okanagan grapes gives us a chance to stretch our cooking skills and be creative. I have added recipes into my repertoire that I never would have started cooking if not for the Good Food Box…and my children have a much broader and more adventurous palate for produce than I ever did growing up.

Most importantly, I feel like I’m a part of our local food system, supporting local farmers and helping our community to be more food secure. My $15 per month, wisely used by a team of cheerful and hard working volunteers, benefits my health and that of my family, but it also makes a contribution to the vitality, economic strength and sustainability of the wider community.

Eating fresh, locally grown fruits and vegetables is part of a healthy lifestyle. Northern Health’s position on Healthy Eating includes evidence to show how initiatives like Good Food Box programs, community gardens and farmers markets contribute to the health of individuals, families and communities. That’s why Northern Health supports these kinds of programs through IMAGINE Grants and in-kind contributions. To learn more, visit our healthy communities web pages.

Now for your Week 4 Challenge! We want to know how you source your local, fresh food. This could mean a lot of things, so be creative! Do you grow it yourself and harvest in the late summer/fall? Do you visit the Farmer’s Markets every week to get your local veggies? Are you a flyfisher who cans fish to eat during the winter? There’s a myriad of ways to source your local food and we want to know how you do it and of course, we want to see a photo of this food! This is the fourth and final challenge for the grand prize – an excellent mini freezer – perfect for storing all your locally sourced food throughout the winter!

Good luck!

Julie Kerr

About Julie Kerr

Until October 2012, Julie Kerr was the director of population health at Northern Health. During her time with us, she was proud to support local healthy eating initiatives in her program area. Julie is now the VP, community, rural and mental health for Alberta Health Services. (Julie no longer works with Northern Health, we wish her all the best.)