Healthy Living in the North

Northern Table: Gardening at Gateway

A short sunflower in a wood raised garden.

This sunflower adds a pop of colour to the garden’s greens.

This summer, my two-year-old son excitedly watched the raspberry bush in our backyard grow as he waited for the berries to turn red. When he tasted our first raspberry, his eyes widened, he jumped up and down, and couldn’t wait to have another! Watching him, I felt a sense of satisfaction, pride, and joy because he’s getting to experience growing and harvesting his own food right in his backyard. Do you know the feeling I’m talking about? The feeling of picking that first berry of the season and enjoying its sweet and tangy taste?

Now, imagine losing that feeling – not being able to take the fresh raspberries from the bush you’ve harvested for years, not being able to enjoy the crisp texture of a freshly picked carrot, or not feeling the satisfaction and joy of growing food for your family.

A hydroponics tower is located in a corner. It has several young plants growing in it.

The hydroponics tower turns “growing season” into a year-round event.

Many residents living in long-term care don’t get to experience these feelings anymore, and may not be able to participate in activities they used to love and found meaning in, like gardening. Backyard gardening or living on a rural agricultural property in Northern BC, and the experience of gardening and growing food for sustenance and pleasure, is a meaningful activity that some people greatly miss. Losing this connection to nature can affect their mental wellbeing. As a dietitian who loves the connection to food, this breaks my heart. At Gateway Lodge (Gateway) in Prince George, we’re helping create an environment where residents can experience growing, preparing, and eating homegrown fruit and vegetables again.

A team of people from the University of Northern BC (UNBC), BC Cancer, and Northern Health received a seed grant to grow vegetables and other edible produce in raised garden beds and a hydroponics tower at Gateway. With the help of residents, our team co-designed a gardening program that includes a shared gardening space between staff and residents, gardening time, and meaningful food and nutrition activities that support the nutritional and mental wellness of residents.

A hand holds a styrofoam cup filled with green smoothie.

A green smoothie, made from veggies from Gateway’s garden and sweetened with store-bought fruit, was a favourite of residents!

One activity that residents loved was making green smoothies from our harvest. We created delicious smoothies with greens from our gardens and added store-bought fruit to sweeten them up and make a vibrant, refreshing green drink.

Residents’ favourite recipe was a combination of greens (kale, Swiss chard, lettuce, spinach), banana, pineapple, vanilla almond milk, and ground flax seed – yum!

I’m thrilled with the opportunity to engage residents in meaningful and nourishing activities through gardening, and we hope to build on the success of 2019 for our next growing year!

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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Fun and learning at the first Northern BC Indigenous Youth Summer Science Camp

Campers and an adult circle a simulation dummy, feeling its chest.

Campers visit the simulation lab at the University Hospital of Northern BC.

This summer, 18 Indigenous students from urban and rural Northern BC communities traveled to the University of Northern BC (UNBC) to participate in the first ever Northern BC Indigenous Youth Summer Science Camp.

The purpose of the camp was to introduce Indigenous youth entering grades five to eight to the post-secondary environment, and inspire them to learn about and pursue health- and science-related careers in the North.

Organized by the Health Arts Research Centre (HARC) with help from several sponsors, including Northern Health (NH) and the First Nations Health Authority (FNHA), the camp was the first of its kind in Northern BC.

The weeklong, sleep-away camp featured a different theme each day, with all of the themes centred on Indigenous and Western science and health.

Students got the unique opportunity to “bunk” overnight in UNBC’s Keyoh Student Residence and enjoy meals at the Agora Dining Hall, making this group of future post-secondary students seasoned pros before they’ve even applied!

The camp began with an opening ceremony, including a traditional welcome to Lheidli T’enneh territory from Elder Darlene McIntosh and drummer Kyle Sam.

Throughout the week, campers learned about a range of topics including:

  • Wildlife and fish
  • Land and water
  • Health and genetics
  • Biology
  • Art

Campers also got to speak with an Environmental Health Officer, prepared traditional foods, learned to identify medicinal plants, and learned about Canada’s Food Guide.

Five children examine bins at Exploration Place's Nature Exchange.

Campers learn about wildlife at the Exploration Place.

Of course, no summer camp is complete without a field trip (or two)! Campers had the chance to learn about astronomy and cosmology at the Exploration Place, where they were able to create beautiful leather pouches, rattles, and cedar roses.

Campers impressed instructors and counsellors with their technological knowledge, and learned about coding and creating websites and apps. Afterwards, the students traveled to the Two Rivers Gallery Maker Lab where they participated in a stop-motion animation workshop – check out the amazing videos that the campers created.

Dr. Jessie King, Hadiksm Gaax, Lead, Research & Community Engagement, Indigenous Health, Northern Health, was on site for most of the week helping facilitate activities and was thrilled to watch how fast campers became friends!

“It was amazing to see the youth building friendships with each other and the camp leaders while experiencing so many fascinating activities. My favourite part of the week was watching the students exchange contact information in the last couple of days so their friendships could go beyond the camp experience! It made me wonder how many would come together at UNBC in five to eight years.”

The week of fun and learning ended with a Grand Finale on Friday, where campers created vision boards for their own futures before attending a Mentorship Fair in the afternoon.

Several campers hold a mixing bowl while another camper tosses the food with tongs.

Campers learn how to prepare traditional foods.

The Mentorship Fair included interactive tables from the Exploration Place, College of New Caledonia, UNBC Aboriginal Recruitment and Support Services, FNHA Environmental Health Team, Outland Youth Employment Program (OYEP) West, and the ECHO Network.

After the fair, campers attended a closing ceremony that included panel talks from inspiring Indigenous guest speakers who shared personal stories, experiences, career paths, and encouragement.

“Reflecting on the experience of going to university, Dr. Sarah de Leeuw and I thought about how frightening and unattainable university can seem for some,” says Dr. King. “For many students, being able to see yourself in a university environment is a powerful experience… if you walk the halls and spend time in the classrooms, it doesn’t take much to begin seeing yourself there one day.”

The success of the first Northern BC Indigenous Youth Summer Science Camp is evident in the relationships made, fun had, and pictures captured. Plans are already in motion to continue the camp into 2020 and beyond!

Shelby Petersen

About Shelby Petersen

Shelby is the Web Services Coordinator with Indigenous Health. Shelby has over five years of experience working in content development and digital marketing. After graduating with a degree in Political Science from UNBC, Shelby moved to Vancouver where she pursued a career in digital marketing. Most recently, Shelby was the Senior Content Developer and Project Manager with a digital advertising agency in Vancouver, British Columbia. Born and raised in Prince George, Shelby is thrilled to be back in the community and spending time outside enjoying everything that the North has to offer.

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Making a difference in the lives of older adults: a UNBC researcher’s passion

Shannon Freeman is pictured.

Shannon Freeman’s grandparents played a large role in her upbringing. Their impact influences her research today.

I’ve always been curious about researchers at post-secondary institutions. What made them want to get into research, and what continues to drive them? Through my role at Northern Health, I’ve been fortunate to meet multiple researchers at the University of Northern British Columbia (UNBC).

To finally appease my curiosity, I approached Shannon Freeman, Associate Professor in the School of Nursing and avid researcher at UNBC, to learn about her path to becoming a researcher and her current projects.

“My upbringing wasn’t traditional,” says Shannon, who grew up in a small town of less than 1,000 people in Southern Ontario. “I was partially raised by my grandmother, and my grandparents were very influential in my life. We developed a strong bond, which drew me towards a career where I could make a difference in the lives of older adults.”

Shannon considered some professions that help older adults, but they weren’t the right fit. She discovered her love of research while finishing her degree across the Pacific Ocean.

“I went to Japan to complete my master’s education. My research project focused on centenarians [people who have lived to or beyond 100 years of age] and longevity. They have a high number of centenarians, and I was interested in learning what they do differently to live so long. It motivated me to get involved with research as my career.”

Shannon’s current research projects focus on improving the quality of life for older adults through meaningful engagement.

Five residents of Gateway Lodge play cards with a university student.

Residents at Gateway Lodge enjoy a game of cards led by a UNBC student as part of the interAGE project.

“Two projects that I’m currently working on at Gateway Lodge in Prince George are the interAGE intergenerational cohousing project and Grow Your Own horticulture project,” says Shannon. “Everything I do connects with older adults.”

Both of these projects focus on reducing social isolation in the long-term care setting.

The interAGE project involves two UNBC students living in Gateway Lodge’s assisted-living wing for a semester. The students are responsible for developing and delivering activities that are in addition to residents’ regularly scheduled activities.

“The residents really enjoy living and interacting with the students. Activities are well attended and it’s been a positive experience for everyone involved.”

Succulents and other plants grow in a pots in an indoor garden.

The indoor flower garden at Gateway Lodge is a welcoming place for residents and their families to enjoy all year.

The Grow Your Own project focuses on gardening.

“Residents identified gardening as something they wanted to do. Last year was our first year with the project. This year, we’ve added outdoor raised beds that are designed for standing people and those in wheelchairs. A core group of residents lead the project, and plan what to plant. It’s an activity they find meaningful, and are committed to.”

For Shannon, there is no greater success than hearing that you changed someone’s perspective on aging.

“I love what I do, and the older adults and partners that I work with on these research projects continue to inspire me every day. I’m excited to start new projects that build on this work. Research allows me to give back to my community and make a difference in people’s lives.”

True to her word, she is already planning her next project: indoor hydroponic gardening at Gateway Lodge.

Tamara Reichert

About Tamara Reichert

Tamara is the communications advisor for the innovation and development commons at Northern Health where she works on a number of projects with the research, quality improvement, clinical simulation, and education teams. Born and raised in Prince George, Tamara grew up on a ranch where she rode horses, played with farm animals, built forts, and raided the family garden. She enjoys spending time travelling, hiking, cooking, reading, and cheering for her favourite sports teams.

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