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.


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.)


Farmers’ markets: Home grown community love

farmers' market veggies

Do you visit your local farmers’ market?

One Saturday afternoon, I did something that I don’t normally do – I took some time to walk around my town of Fort Nelson. It’s amazing what you see when you move slower:  I noticed, for example, how crisp and beautiful the flowers on the street corners were! During my walk, I decided to venture into the Farmers’ Market – a place that I often overlooked when driving – and I discovered the fresh locally grown foods that were displayed everywhere.

A farmer there explained to me that locally grown foods taste different than food that has been trucked up from thousands of miles away. His lettuce was picked yesterday, whereas food trucked up to us may have been picked a week ago. We also talked about how locally grown foods builds community, supports your local economy, increases food security, and reduces the environmental impact from transportation. It seems there sure is a lot to love about farmers’ markets and local food!

Farmers’ Markets feature individual vendors, mainly farmers, who set up booths, tables or stands and sell their products to the public once or twice a week at a designated place like a park or parking lot. The markets often feature produce grown naturally or organically, meats that are raised humanely on pasture, eggs and poultry, and produce.

Thanks to an increased interest in healthier foods and food security, farmers’ markets in Canada have grown. New markets appear regularly, and existing markets are seeing renewed growth.

Benefits of shopping at your local farmers’ market

Consumers love them because they can buy top-quality farm-fresh products directly from the person who produced them. Produce found at farmers’ markets is renowned for being locally grown, very fresh and produced at a much higher quality, as it’s usually organically grown with no artificial hormones. Local, fresh food is more likely to foster health and prevent illness than is heavily processed foods.  Consumers can enjoy fresh, seasonally-grown food that was produced within a drivable distance from their homes.

Farmers love them because they’re fun and let them connect with consumers who love what they sell and appreciate their hard work. They’re also an important source of income, helping farmers keep on doing what they love to do. Almost all of the money that supports local farmers goes back to the farmer, especially since the food sold at farmers’ markets undergoes a much simpler process than that sold at supermarkets.

Communities love them because they bring people together and can turn once-deserted areas into hives of activity, attracting extra business for stores and restaurants nearby.

For more information or to find a local farmers’ market, check out the BC Association of Farmers’ Markets or contact your local environmental health officer.

[Editor’s note: Don’t forget to enter the Healthy Living Week 4 Challenge and tell us about how you source local food for your chance to win a great mini freezer!]

Michael Truong

About Michael Truong

Michael is an Environmental Health Officer at the Fort Nelson Health Unit, and he really enjoys his work. He has been living in northeast B.C. for almost a year and loves his community. During the winter season, he enjoys snowshoeing with his friends and in the summer, he loves the scenery of the northern Rockies.