Healthy Living in the North

G.R. Baker’s gardens are blossoming thanks to two volunteers

A bed of flowers is pictured.

The flower gardens at GR Baker Memorial Hospital are meant lift up people in the hospital.

G.R. Baker Memorial Hospital’s gardens are flourishing in Quesnel, thanks to the help of keen gardeners and local support. For the past seven years, next-door neighbours Wilma and Joan have volunteered their time to maintain the gardens with the goal of raising the spirits of hospital patients, staff, and visitors.

“We both just love gardening,” says Joan. “It’s our passion, just absolutely love it!”

The pair have over 20 years of gardening experience and are active in the Quesnel gardening community. They both feel very proud to give back to their community in this way.

Flowers are in a commemorative stone box,Back in 2012, the hospital first approached the pair to pull out overgrown junipers and plant flowers. In the early years, the gardens were not properly maintained and the pair had a limited budget. Wilma and Joan took it upon themselves to not only take care of the gardens, but to head into the community and approach local businesses for support.

Over the years, local businesses have donated flowers, plants, trees, birdbaths, and other garden décor.

“The businesses have been great and helped out immensely,” says Wilma. G.R. Baker maintenance staff have also helped with heavy trimming, and watering the flowerpots around the facility.

Today, Joan and Wilma, with staff, and local businesses, maintain several gardens in front of the hospital. They start in the spring, meeting twice a month to clear debris from the fall and prepare the garden beds for the upcoming year. In the warmer months, they’re on site more often, checking in on the gardens, watering, and caring for plants. While they’re on site, many visitors stop and say what a wonderful job they do.

Both Wilma and Joan are long-time residents of Quesnel, and say their “whole goal for the grounds is to cheer someone up who’s having a rough patch at the hospital.”

They hope this project can be a source of inspiration for all communities.

“We want people to keep an eye out for their next-door neighbour who’s elderly and can’t do their yard. Think ‘pay it forward.’ If everyone did that, it would just be really neat in our communities.”

 

Brandan Spyker

About Brandan Spyker

Brandan works in digital communications at NH. He helps manage our staff Intranet but also creates graphics, monitors social media and shoots video for NH. Born and raised in Prince George, Brandan started out in TV broadcasting as a technical director before making the jump into healthcare. Outside of work he enjoys spending quality time and travelling with his wife, daughter and son. He’s a techie/nerd. He likes learning about all the new tech and he's a big Star Wars fan. He also enjoys watching and playing sports.

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The St. John Hospital acute care garden: improving quality of life for people waiting for long-term care

The acute care garden gives seniors waiting for long-term opportunities for engagement, socialization, and mobility.

This spring, the residents and staff at St. John Hospital (Vanderhoof) came together to start a garden for acute care patients who are on long-term care waitlists. Acute patients who are waiting for a long-term care spot can have limited access to activities and recreation. This project gives them opportunities for engagement, socialization, and mobility on the acute floor.

Many of the residents grew up in or around Vanderhoof, and were avid farmers and gardeners throughout their lives. Now, they can tend, water, weed, and enjoy this garden. Doing so reconnects them to their past, sparking old memories, and contributes to their sense of purpose.

This project was started by the Rehabilitation Department at the St. John Hospital, which includes occupational therapist Valerie Padgin, rehabilitation assistant Roxanne, and myself (also an occupational therapist). It’s part of a DementiAbility initiative.

Thanks to the generous donations and support from several family members, the acute care garden is now thriving, growing tomatoes and lettuce! This project wouldn’t be possible without:

  • Maya Sullivan from the Vanderhoof Community Garden for loaning the hospital a wheelchair accessible planter, which got the project started.
  • The Men’s Shed for building two additional planters.
  • The Co-op and Home Hardware in Vanderhoof for donating soil, potting mix, gloves, hand tools, and a watering can.
  • Eileen at Maxine’s Greenhouse for donating dozens of beautiful plants that are flourishing in the garden.
  • Allan Pagdin and Joanne Petrie, who put in several hours of time and labour to make the project a success.

We hope the garden continues to grow and improve the lives of our residents and acute care patients!

Laura Giroux

About Laura Giroux

Laura is an Occupational Therapist at the St. John Hospital in Vanderhoof. Originally from Vancouver Island, Laura has been in the North for nearly four years, and enjoys all of the recreation and outdoor activities that it has to offer. She recently joined the Rehabilitation Department at St. John Hospital and is excited to work on such a creative and compassionate team.

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The Northern Table: Farm to School BC blossoms in the Northwest

People creating a garden.

Students working the school garden at Smithers Secondary School.

How do you get students excited about healthy, local food? According to Farm to School BC, the winning formula is simple: get students involved by providing opportunities to grow, prepare, taste, and explore healthy, local food!

Established in 2007, Farm to School BC (F2SBC) is a diverse and expanding provincial program that works to support healthy eating and sustainable regional food systems. This is done by working to have local food in schools, providing hands-on learning activities, and building school-community connections. Farm to School BC programs are tailored to the interests and needs of each school and community.

To date, F2SBC has supported 33 Farm to School initiatives across Northern BC, and is committed to supporting and inspiring even more programs across the region. Recognizing the need to provide on-the-ground support, the Northwest Regional Hub was launched, with Margo Peill as the Hub’s Community Animator.

A tray of sprouting plants.

A classroom project at Ecole Mountainview in Terrace, BC.

The Northwest Hub includes the geographic areas of the Coast Mountains School District (#82) and the Bulkley Valley School District (#54). Margo will be working with schools, farmers, and community partners to strengthen local partnerships and networks that will support sustainable F2SBC programs in the years to come.

I caught up with Margo to learn more about Farm to School BC in the Northwest, and some of the exciting opportunities she is supporting! Here’s what Margo had to say!

What are some examples of current Farm to School initiatives in the region?

We have some fantastic projects happening in the Northwest region! Each school develops their own unique projects that work within their school and community. Some projects include:

  • Cultivating bountiful school gardens
  • Experimenting with tower gardening and microgreens in the classroom
  • Incubating and hatching chicks
  • Dehydrating fruit gathered from their community for school snacks
  • Salad bar programs
  • Field trips to forage traditional and wild foods

The projects really do look different in each school, and so far, that is something we’ve seen the Northwest Hub really excelling at — coming up with creative solutions to incorporate Farm to School BC projects into the curriculum and classroom!

Can you tell me more about your role and the role of the F2SBC Northwest Regional Hub?

We’re really excited to take a community development approach to growing Farm to School BC programs in the Northwest region. Through the Northwest Regional Hub, we’ll be building networks, growing strong relationships with community partners, supporting their initiatives, and working to secure additional funding and support for the Northwest Hub.

One of our core values is to support school and community connectedness, so we really want to ensure that teachers and school champions have a strong network around them to help support the sustainability and growth of their projects. We’ll be hosting learning circles, professional development days, networking events, and an annual spring celebration to highlight and share the inspiring work that is happening here in the Northwest region.

How can local community members and groups get involved in Farm to School activities?

We are always looking for collaborations, even unlikely ones! On May 22, we’ll be hosting an official Northwest Hub launch and networking event at Cassie Hall Elementary (2620 Eby St., Terrace). Everyone is welcome to attend, share, and learn more about Farm to School BC programs while making community connections. The event will take place from 4:30 pm to 6 pm and some light refreshments will be provided. We look forward to seeing you there!

 

Note: Farm to School BC is administered by the Public Health Association of BC and supported by the Province of British Columbia and the Provincial Health Services Authority.

Emilia Moulechkova

About Emilia Moulechkova

Originally from the Lower Mainland, Emilia started her career with Northern Health as a dietetic intern in 2013. Since then, she has worked in a variety of roles as a Registered Dietitian with the population health team. In her current role, she supports schools across the north in their efforts to promote healthy eating. Emilia is passionate about food’s role in bringing people and communities together, and all the ways it can support physical, mental, and social health. Her overall philosophy on healthy eating can be summarized by this Ellyn Satter quote: “When the joy goes out of eating, nutrition suffers.” In her spare time, she loves exploring the beautiful northern outdoors by foot, skis, bike, or canoe!

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Foodie Friday: garden harvest time

We’re a week into September which means fall is around the corner! I love the changing of one season to another, but I enjoy fall the most of all the four seasons. I love the fresh, crisp air that comes with the cooler temperatures, and watching the foliage change from green to yellow to orange. I love browsing the craft/artisan fairs on weekends while sipping on hot lattes or apple cider. I look forward to pulling out all my scarves and getting to wear cozy layers once again. I’m excited already… can you tell??

Another perk to fall is getting to harvest (and eat!) the produce from the garden. I don’t have a greenhouse, so I only plant after the last frost each year and often can’t enjoy a lot of my vegetables until late August/early September. And despite having a degree in agriculture, I’m actually kind of terrible at growing plants. This year, I was more diligent with watering, fertilizing, and weeding and it’s paid off. We’ve ended up with some beautiful vegetables like rainbow carrots, zucchini, cabbage, beans, tomatoes, and beets (that are nearly half the size of my 3-year old’s head!).

Garden harvest time this year meant lots of cabbage thanks to this early varietal!

This year, I planted an early variety of cabbage that I bought at my local greenhouse, Hunniford Gardens, and we had huge heads of cabbage ready in July. Needless to say, we’ve been eating a lot of cabbage around here for the past six weeks, making my Ukrainian ancestors very happy. I’ve also found myself coming back to the recipe I’m sharing today: refrigerator coleslaw- my go-to recipe for cabbage. I don’t know the original source, as it’s a hand written recipe from my Great Aunt, but I think many versions exist out there. It’s great for feeding a crowd and keeps for at least a week in the fridge. Whether you’ve grown your own cabbage or not this year, I encourage you to give it a try!

Refrigerator coleslaw (Source: My Great Aunt via my Mother)

Ingredients:

  • 1 kg shredded cabbage (about 1 small head)
  • 5-6 large carrots, shredded
  • 1 ½ cups of celery, chopped
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • ½ cup white sugar

Dressing:

  • 2/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/3 cup white sugar
  • 2/3 cup white vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • ½ teaspoon celery seeds

Instructions:

  1. Mix together in bowl and sprinkle with sugar. Let stand while making the dressing.
  2. Bring dressing ingredients to a boil. Pour over vegetable mixture. Mix well. Store in refrigerator.
Tamara Grafton

About Tamara Grafton

Tamara is a registered dietitian currently working with the clinical nutrition team at UHNBC and in long term care facilities in Prince George. Originally from a small city in Saskatchewan, she now lives the rural life on a ranch with her husband and young son. She has a passion for nutrition education, healthy eating and cooking. In her downtime, she enjoys reading food blogs, keeping active, and trying out new recipes on her family and friends

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Foodie Friday: Waste not, want not! A simple guide to making the most of your garden harvest

Do you have more carrot tops than you know what to do with? Try using them in a tasty pesto (see recipe below)!

This will be my fourth year to reap the benefits of a backyard garden and I feel like I’m really starting to get the hang of things out there! This year I’ve noticed myself becoming somewhat fixated on the amount of garden waste I have (which also makes me wonder if I’m slowly turning into my mother!). In past years I just tossed my surplus into the compost pile without a second thought, but this year I find myself wondering if there is a way to salvage some of that waste from the heap. As my garden output kicks into high gear, I’m going to need a plan to help me minimize the waste this year; I hope it will help you reduce yours as well.

Step 1: Identify a surplus

I don’t know about the rest of you gardeners out there, but I’m drowning in carrot tops and beet greens. How I never knew that carrot tops were edible (and tasty) is beyond me, so I set out to use some of those up.

There are a few ways you can deal with a surplus, depending on what you’ve got. Did you plant more green beans than you can reasonably eat? Are your strawberries taking over your fridge shelves? Was your yield of tomatoes far beyond your expectations? The first step to reducing your waste is identifying what you’ve got.

Step 2: Come up with a plan

Is there any question the internet can’t answer?! Once you know what you want to use up, a good google search should yield you a number of solutions to deal with your surplus. One solution I loved and will definitely do next year, is succession planting. I can’t eat two rows of radishes all at once, so next year I’m going to plant a second row two weeks later. Here are some suggestions that you can use now:

  • Blanche and freeze vegetables such as peas, green beans, and beets.
  • Shred zucchini and freeze for muffins and breads.
  • Make a tomato sauce or try your hand at sundried tomatoes.
  • Use up herbs or carrot greens in a pesto (see recipe below!).
  • Thinly slice greens (beet greens, kale, etc.) and toss into salads or freeze for smoothies.
  • Can, pickle, or preserve fruits or vegetables.

Step 3: Tackle!

One of the most challenging parts of this equation is finding the extra time to spend in the kitchen. Make sure your plan fits into your time budget – if you’ve only got 30 minutes you probably don’t want to tackle pickling beets, but might be able to whip up a quick pesto with a food processor. Consider getting a group of friends together for a ‘canning’ or ‘freezing’ party to make the work go quicker.

grilled shrimp and pesto

Try this pesto drizzled over grilled shrimp or use it to dress up a salad or sandwich!

Step 4: Enjoy the fruits (or vegetables) of your labour.

I’ve included the recipe I used for a carrot top pesto; it’s adapted from the Food Network. I drizzled it over some grilled shrimp but it would also be great mixed into a salad dressing or as a sandwich topping or even plopped on to a nice bowl of soup.

Carrot Top Pesto

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup packed carrot leaves
  • ½ cup packed parsley leaves
  • ¼ cup roasted cashews or pine nuts
  • 1 clove garlic
  • ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • ¼ cup parmesan cheese
  • Kosher salt, to taste

Instructions:

  • Pulse the carrot leaves, parsley leaves, nuts and garlic in a food processor until coarsely chopped.
  • Slowly pour the olive oil in with the machine running to form a paste.
  • Pulse in the parmesan and kosher salt.
  • Store in an airtight container for 1-2 weeks, or in the freezer for up to 6 months.
Carmen Maddigan

About Carmen Maddigan

Born and raised in Fort St. John, Carmen returned home in 2007, after completing her internship in Prince George. She has since filled a variety of different roles as a dietitian for Northern Health and currently works at Fort St. John Hospital providing diabetes education. In her spare time, Carmen can be found testing out a variety of healthy and tasty meal ideas. She also enjoys running, camping, and playing outside in the sun or snow with her family.

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Foodie Friday: garden planning starts in your kitchen!

Now that the sun is shining and the snow is almost gone here in Prince George, the weather leaves me dreaming about my future backyard garden.

My largest passion in life is connecting people with real food, and growing your own food is a great way to build this relationship. Growing your own food can be a therapeutic, humbling, and nourishing experience that is also, of course, chock-full of lessons to be learned throughout the season.

community garden, raised beds

Community gardens are a great way to venture into gardening. They can be a great source of pride and local vegetables!

When I lived in Vancouver, I had an opportunity to join a community garden in my neighbourhood with a 4×11 ft raised bed. This was the biggest garden I had ever had, as I was used to balcony gardening- with a few vegetable fails. I stuffed my new garden plot with everything I could imagine and it was my pride and joy over the growing season. I learned consistency of watering (surprise!), weeding, and harvesting were all key in keeping a healthy, beautiful garden space.

Now that we have our own home, top priority this spring is to build garden boxes to continue on with my gardening aspirations. I plan to have 2 large raised beds – this time with some added fruit trees and bushes, and to cater to our northern climate when planting. For tips on growing a garden in our northern climate, check out this blog post!

Now, what to plant?

If you are a seasoned northern gardener, this may be a silly question, but being new to the north or being an entirely new gardener, this could be a daunting question!

Kale is a hardy, easy-to-grow, and nutritious addition to your garden.

Ask yourself: What do I like to eat? What would I like to try cooking with?

Vegetable gardening starts in the kitchen! Try planting things that you enjoy to eat and you may be more motivated to take care of your plants throughout the season and to enjoy the harvest. One of my favourite vegetables to plant is kale because it is easy to grow, holds up against harsh weather, and can be eaten raw or cooked.

Today’s recipe is made with Portuguese kale- it resembles collard greens with large, smooth, and oval leaves that have a perfect chewiness in this salad. For more ideas on what to do with the kale you may plant this year, check out this blog post!

Sesame Kale Salad

kale salad

Portuguese kale makes for the perfect chewiness.

Ingredients:

  • 1 bunch kale, sliced thinly
  • 1 red pepper, sliced thinly
  • 1 carrot, sliced thinly
  • ¼ cup cilantro, chopped
  • ¼ cup green onion, sliced thinly
  • ½ cup cashews, roasted
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 2 T canola or olive oil
  • 1 T apple cider or rice wine vinegar
  • ½ tsp soy sauce or tamari
  • 1 tsp honey

Directions:

  1. In a large bowl, add kale, red pepper, carrot, cilantro, and green onions.
  2. In a small jar, combine sesame oil, oil, vinegar, soy sauce, and honey. Shake to combine.
  3. Toss salad with enough dressing to coat the vegetables lightly. You will have left over dressing that can be kept in the fridge to use.
  4. Top with crunchy cashews and serve!

I’m sure the years to come will be full of trial and error. I’d love to hear your northern garden success stories!

Erin Branco

About Erin Branco

Erin is a dietitian who works with residents in long term care homes in Prince George. She is passionate about supporting residents’ quality of life as well as fostering their reconnection to food. In her spare time, you can find her with her family and friends, enjoying a meal, playing in the garden, camping or supporting clients in her private practice. She loves being a part of making positive change in healthcare, and is an advocate for providing best practice nutrition support to our northern communities.

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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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Healthy living for healthy aging

Woman on a boat

“Food, lifestyle, getting back to the land, going for walks, being at peace and enjoying what’s around you – these do matter.” Judy Gerow shares her thoughts on health and aging.

Judy Gerow is member of the Kitselas First Nation and has been in Band Council for over 20 years: two years as Chief and the rest as Councillor. She is a mother of six, a stepmother of an additional six, and is also raising her granddaughter. Throughout her whole life, her health has been on her mind. I had the privilege of asking Judy a few questions about her experiences of health and aging and am excited to share her thoughts and story below.

Do you believe that health is a journey?

Yes, absolutely, I think it’s a journey! Your physical and mental health play a big part in your well-being and need to be in balance to be truly healthy.

When did you start really considering your health?

Even though I have always been thinking about my health, it was after I became a mother that I realized how important it was to take care of myself so that I was here for my children.

My kids are a real motivation for me. Now that I am raising my granddaughter, I want to take care of myself to make sure I am here for her until she can be on her own.

What things are you doing to keep you healthy?

I try to watch what I eat and I don’t drink alcohol or smoke. I keep myself involved in various activities, many of which are physical such as my volunteer role in the fire department. I like to fish and hunt and through this, challenge my body to keep up with others and carry what I can. I garden, too.

Family is also very important to me; we are a large and close family and look forward to getting together for family dinners. As I get older, I spend more time thinking about my life, what matters, and how I can live this to the fullest.

How does this healthy lifestyle make you feel?

I feel a sense of pride that I can still pull my own weight, even though I can’t carry as much as I could in my youth. My role model is my mother. She is 84 years old and she’s still going strong. When she was in her 60’s, I had a hard time keeping up to her. She would get up at dawn and preserve fruits and vegetables until late at night. She is slowing down now due to health concerns. She has macular degeneration but she still cuts fish, even though she does it now by feel.

When I’m out on the river or in the bush, I have time to reflect and focus on the land and the environment. I find that very spiritual and I get a sense of belonging when I’m out there. It’s like I can feel the presence of my ancestors who walked before me for thousands of years.

How do you think having a healthy lifestyle now will support your health in the future?

I think it will help me to live longer and to remain active. I couldn’t imagine not being active. I want to be just like my mom! When I was growing up, I used to tell my friends that I didn’t want to be like my mother. It’s ironic that no matter how hard I tried to do things differently, I end up like her! My mother is always there, a focus in my life.

What are you most looking forward to about being healthy as you age?

I look forward to being active and having a fulfilling life where I can do what I want and not be a burden to anyone. I want to remain independent as long as I can.

If you could share one message with others about your journey, what would that message be?

When you are younger, you don’t think about what it’s going to be like when you’re older. Choices one makes when they are young do matter in the future, that is the message I would like to share.

Every summer was like bootcamp for me. I was busy keeping up to my husband as we hunted or fished together. I wasn’t paying attention to my body. Parts of my body are starting to give me more problems now – like my knees and my elbows – from pushing myself too much then, packing heavy loads, and jumping off rocks.

My husband passed away five years ago from lung cancer. He was a smoker and a drinker. I chose not to so I could be there for my children. My current partner has diabetes and heart disease from not taking care earlier.

Everyone needs to start taking care of themselves and be more conscious of what’s around them. Food, lifestyle, getting back to the land, going for walks, being at peace and enjoying what’s around you – these do matter.

I never had an interest in gardening even when I had watched my mom do it. Yet, last year, we planted a garden and what came up was wonderful! I found it so relaxing; I could just get lost in it. I could sit in that garden, pulling weeds and not think of anything and before I knew it, four hours had passed! Work and other things in my life slipped away. We all need to do more of this. Life is too fast-paced. I’m going on a vacation soon. My partner and I are taking our motorhome and just going – no destination or timeline! Stress-free!

Victoria Carter

About Victoria Carter

Victoria works in Northern Health's Aboriginal health program as the lead for engagement and integration. She is an adopted member of the Nisga’a nation and was given the name “Nox Aama Goot” which means “mother of good heart.” In her work she sees herself as an ally working together with Aboriginal people across the north to improve access to quality health care. She keeps herself well by honouring the mental, emotional, physical and spiritual aspects of her life through spending time with her friends and family, being in nature and working on her own personal growth.

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What have I learned in the garden? 10 tips from an amateur northern gardener

Garden with a rainbow in the background.

Before any seedlings emerged, a rainbow (with hints of a double rainbow) touched down in the garden! It’s going to be a good year!

Since moving to northern B.C. from the Lower Mainland, a hobby of mine that has ramped up considerably is gardening.

What used to be one tomato plant and a few pots of herbs on a small apartment patio has grown into a full patch of dirt about the size of that same Vancouver apartment! My crop has expanded from tomatoes and herbs to zucchini, peppers, kale, potatoes, spinach, green onion, lettuce, carrots, beets, peas, beans, corn, pumpkins, cucumber, six different herbs, raspberries, and some flowers thrown in for good measure.

For me, gardening is a great way to stay active, get outside, enjoy the sun, and eat healthy, super local food!

I am most definitely an amateur in the garden, but figure there are more than a few folks like me out there, so I thought I’d share my own top ten list of things I’ve learned over the last two years of gardening. I’m not talking pro tips – chat to an experienced local or check out the most recent issue of A Healthier You for those! – I’m talking about the realizations that I’ve had while fumbling around in the garden.

Ten things I learned in the garden

Frog on zucchini plant.

Perhaps the garden’s newest protector will keep the deer at bay?

1. Deer aren’t easy to fool. My first attempt at a deer repellent was to plant a wall of sunflowers in front of my veggies. If the deer can’t see the veggies, I figured, then they won’t eat them. This hypothesis was proven to be false.

2. Get organized! Visitors may poke fun at the spreadsheet that I’ve mounted in the greenhouse telling me when to thin seedlings, how far apart to space my plants, and how to harvest and prune, but I love my spreadsheet and you should, too!

3. Speaking of thinning plants, for me, this is undeniably the hardest part of gardening. When you grow something from seed, it just feels wrong to pluck it out of the ground simply to make room for other seedlings. I feel your pain.

4. Freeze raspberries on a baking sheet before putting them in a bag or container. My raspberry crop last year was amazing. And then I thought: “Hey, I should freeze these for loaves, muffins, and smoothies all winter long.” And then I thought: “Hey, I’ll just throw this bucket of raspberries in the freezer.” This worked very well until I went to grab a raspberry or two and found a massive frozen block instead. This year, to avoid having to chisel raspberries, I’m freezing the berries on a cookie sheet first. So far, so good!

Raspberries in a colander

How to properly freeze raspberries (and which Instagram filters make raspberry pictures pop) are just two things that took a full season of fun, first-time, error-filled gardening to learn.

5. Salads rock! My summer diet consists mostly of some variation on Carly’s full-meal-deal salad. A quick trip from the kitchen to the garden to snip some lettuce, grab some tomatoes and cucumbers, and cut some herbs is about all the dinner prep time I needed.

6. Deer and gardeners can co-exist. My neighbours have suggested fences, hanging soap, motion-activated sprinklers, and sprays to keep the deer at bay. My preferred approach (after the sunflower barrier failed): plant 10 times more than I could possibly eat and let the deer eat to their hearts’ content – being sure to snap pictures, of course, since the novelty of wildlife in the garden has yet to wear off for this new northerner.

7. Gardening can be great physical activity! Often when I’m in the garden, I lose track of time. Also, as an amateur, I probably do things a bit slower than the seasoned pros. It’s usually the setting sun that snaps me back into focus and reminds me that I’ve been outside for 2-3 hours bending, lifting, walking, shovelling, and just generally moving around!

Gardening information on a wall

The first year garden saw a handwritten spreadsheet (pictured). This year’s upgrade is a computer printout and has more information on pruning, harvesting, and fertilizing. No word yet on what next year’s version will look like.

8. Seniors are undeniably the best go-to source for local gardening information. Why were my cucumbers bitter? Why did the pumpkin leaves turn black? How should I prune my raspberries? I could spend some time Googling the answers and find some information that may or may not be applicable to Vanderhoof or, as I’ve done a few times now, I could draw on the wisdom of a seasoned local gardening veteran and get the right answer every time!

9. Gardening makes for colourful, jealousy-inducing pictures. Take many and share widely!

10. If I can do it, so can you!

Whether you try a single pot of herbs on a windowsill or dozens of rows and beds, give gardening a shot this year! It’s not too late (I was out planting some new seeds just yesterday!) and the healthy rewards are amazing!

Do you have any tips from your gardening experiences?

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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It takes a community to raise a garden

Vanderhoof community garden.

The Vanderhoof Community Garden has evolved – and continues to evolve – into an amazing gathering space that celebrates local food, community, and knowledge sharing.

Since moving to Vanderhoof a couple of years ago, one of the neatest things that I’ve seen happen is the emergence of an amazing community garden from the ground up. Having seen community gardens in neighbourhoods in Victoria and Vancouver, I had a certain idea of what a space like this might look like. For me, the Vanderhoof Community Garden blew those expectations out of the water!

The very first line of Growing Together, a knowledge-sharing book created as part of the Vanderhoof Community Garden project, reads:

It takes a community to raise a garden.

For me, these simple words capture the essence of the Vanderhoof Community Garden and the journey that it has taken from a small idea to a space that celebrates local food, community, and learning.

When I spoke with Maya Sullivan, one of the drivers behind the Vanderhoof Community Garden, she shared her thoughts that “this is truly a community project … the fact that a small seed of an idea could become such an amazing space for connection, such a healthy community space, continues to amaze me.”

The story of the Vanderhoof Community Garden is one of dedicated volunteers, extensive partnerships, overcoming challenges, and celebration. The small seed that grew into this beautiful space was planted over 10 years ago when a small group of community members volunteered their time and energy to start a modest community garden near the Vanderhoof Community Museum. That particular location was never ideal – lots of moose, heavy clay soil, no space for tools, and spring runoff that washed away manure that had been tilled into the garden – but a number of passionate volunteers kept that project going for a number of years. After a particularly difficult spring in 2012 when melting snow created a creek through the garden that carried off valuable soil, the group went back to the drawing board.

It is from this drawing board that the current community garden, officially opened with a harvest celebration in September 2014, emerged. A look around at the grand opening event revealed a magnificent garden, a beautiful covered space to gather, two greenhouses, dozens of raised beds, on-site water and a wheelchair-accessible flush toilet, and hundreds of smiling community members. Partners had come together, volunteers devoted thousands of hours to planning and work bees, kids got their hands dirty, seniors shared their knowledge, and the end result was a beautiful space to gather, grow, share, and learn.

Three gardeners in a greenhouse

Knowledge-sharing aplenty happens in the Vanderhoof Community Garden. In the shared greenhouse space, gardeners get tips on how to prune suckers.

The garden is a place to work together

The list of project partners for the beautiful community garden in Vanderhoof is impressive. The Nechako Valley Food Network and their amazing volunteers provided the spark that began this project, the energy to keep pushing it forward, and a hub for interested individuals and groups to connect and collaborate. The Integris Community Foundation provided the first significant grant to breathe life into the idea. The District of Vanderhoof and School District 91 collaborated to find and donate a new site for the garden. The Farm to School program at WL McLeod Elementary School connected with the garden to produce local food for hot lunches. The Seniors Connected program became involved to improve accessibility in the garden, create mentorship opportunities, and share knowledge. Northern Health provided grant funding to support the initiative. Countless local businesses and volunteers donated time, materials, expertise, and labour to the project. The garden would not have happened without this support and, importantly, the garden continues to attract new partners, ideas, and projects.

The garden is a place for everyone

Early on in the project, accessibility was a key consideration. The raised beds – most of which were built by local high school students – were created to be wheelchair accessible and to minimize bending. The garden includes an accessible flush toilet, a covered structure for respite, and shared tools thanks to a recent donation. The raised beds and garden plots themselves are open to everyone who signs up at no charge. The community garden is successful in part because it has eliminated so many potential barriers to entry and welcomes gardeners of any age, skill level, neighbourhood, or income level.

The garden is a place to connect

The garden creates a space where people can connect, meet, and share knowledge. These people may not otherwise have a reason to meet but local food and the community garden provide that reason. The garden site supports this connection. It is central, close to schools and homes, and connects to the Vanderhoof community trail system.

The garden is a place to get away

With a beautiful view of the Nechako River and lots of space to enjoy, the garden is also a place for relaxation and quiet reflection. With nothing but the sound of the river to distract you, the garden provides a peaceful place for community members to spend a warm summer evening reconnecting with themselves and with nature.

Gardener holding a zucchini and watering plants.

There’s no shortage of fresh, delicious produce in the garden!

The garden is a place to grow

When talking to volunteer organizers and garden users, it is surprising how long it takes before the issue of food actually comes up! All of the connections, partnerships, and learning have created a bounty of local food! A walk through the raised beds and greenhouse structures reveals tomatoes, peppers, squash, leafy greens, strawberries, peas, carrots, beets, and more! There are plans for potatoes, fruit trees, and berry bushes this year. Individual gardeners take their bounty home and the students, parents, and teachers from WL McLeod Elementary School harvest their crops and spend a day preserving so that the kitchen staff can use them in hot lunches throughout the year.

Older woman showing a young girl how to sow seeds.

The garden is a place to learn! On any given day, you might see more experienced gardeners sharing their skills with first-time seed sowers!

The garden is a place to learn

On any given day in the Vanderhoof Community Garden, you might see a class of elementary school students with mentors, a group of seniors sharing their vast knowledge, or simply two people – previously strangers – swapping tips. Some of this learning has been formalized as the local Seniors Connected group created a book, Growing Together, that shares their collective 600 years of local gardening knowledge. There are plans to offer gardening workshops in the space this year.

With all of these amazing garden qualities, it’s no wonder that the garden organizers are still in awe of how far they’ve come. Maya sums it up this way:

This has truly evolved beyond my wildest dreams and it keeps evolving based on what different members of the community bring to it.

That evolution will surely be fun to watch, as despite all of the incredible successes of the Vanderhoof Community Garden thus far, there is still half of the garden site left to be cultivated and transformed. The growing, learning, sharing, and connecting have just gotten started!


A version of this story first appeared in the May 2015 issue of A Healthier You magazine.

 

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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