Healthy Living in the North

I came for… I stayed because… with Robyn Turner

Robyn Turner skating on a frozen lake.I’ve recently noticed that many of the conversations I’ve had with multiple Northern Health staff have uncovered a common theme! These staff members were anticipating coming to the North for a short amount of time, but have stayed for a lot longer. I’m capturing some of these stories in a new series! See our first story, on Andrea Starck, here!

Robyn Turner, a Dietitian for Vanderhoof, Fort St James and Fraser Lake, is another person who never intended to stay in the North, but now calls it home! Robyn is from Victoria, BC and started at Northern Health in February 2016.

What brought you to Vanderhoof?

I was a newly graduated dietitian living in Victoria and there weren’t many opportunities for full time jobs. I started looking at available positions in other towns. I wasn’t actively looking for positions in the North, but I noticed the posting for a temporary dietitian for Vanderhoof, Fort St. James, and Fraser Lake. On a whim, I decided to apply for it.

Why have you stayed?

I have really appreciated the small team environment at work; everyone is friendly and welcoming. Team members are on a first name basis which makes working together easier. I also have a lot more opportunities here than I would elsewhere. The team appreciates my work and people are willing to help me when I ask.

Living in Vanderhoof, I have tried a lot of different activities that I never thought I would: I have learned how to snowmobile, attended a quilting retreat, and even walked in a local fashion show. There is a strong sense of community and a commitment to the citizens, which I really appreciate.

My position is now permanent and I don’t have any plans to leave. I enjoy it so much that I have even started trying to recruit my friends to come here as well!

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.


Valemount knows granting season

Kids and adults on x-country skis.

X-country skiing gives the winter some much needed outside boost!

As you’re probably aware, it’s the spring IMAGINE granting season, and applications are coming in from all over Northern BC. Through our social media promotions of the program, I was lucky enough to connect with Rita Rewerts of the Canoe Valley Community Association (CVCA) in Valemount BC. During her tenure with the CVCA, Rita has applied and been selected for two IMAGINE Community Grants. What a pro!

We chatted about her background, the mountains in the area, how rad Valemount is… oh and how the grants have affected Valemount’s community. Here’s what she had to say!

How long have you been in Valemount and what’s your involvement in the Canoe Valley Community Association?

I moved to Valemount from Vancouver Island (Nanaimo) 25 years ago! I’m now happily retired from my job as a homecare nurse. Currently, I’m the vice president for the Association, and one of my main roles is to act as a liaison between the board and employees for programming. It’s awesome – how can you not love doing things for the kids!?

Cooking equipment on a table in a kitchen.

IMAGINE the creations this cooking equipment will whip up!

What did the IMAGINE grants help with and how were they successful?

We’ve applied for two grants and started two great programs: x-country skiing and a cooking program. I think both of the programs have been very successful, and our community has benefited too!

For our skiing program, we partnered with Yellowhead Outdoor Recreation Association (YORA) to help instruct participants on how to ski. The IMAGINE grant helped us purchase the skis and gear, but wow, is it ever expensive to buy skis for growing kids! So, we opted to buy a wide range of sizes, from youth to adult. Now as a lasting bonus, we’re able to offer skis and gear to the community during the winter for a small fee. It’s been great, and hugely beneficial for the community. Kids, adults and whole families love to get out and ski. Skiing for everybody!

For the cooking program, the grant helped us go from small to big. The idea was to partner with the high school to teach cooking from scratch, but it became too successful for the space we were using. So we moved to the Lions Club, where the IMAGINE grant helped buy cooking equipment like mixers, pans, and utensils.

It’s been very rewarding to see this idea take flight. The kids love cooking. Right from six years old, they take on Food Safe, learn about canning, baking cakes, cookies, whole meals – you name it. Our next project to enhance the program is to build a permaculture garden to grow our own ingredients!

Is there another IMAGINE grant application in your future?

Yes, there sure is! I’m in the process for writing another grant for this cycle. We really believe that programming should be based on what community interests are, and you have to be in constant contact with the community to find out what they want. So for this cycle, we polled kids for ideas through the school! There seems to be a real hunger to learn how to draw and paint. So we will be looking into artsy things: art classes, easels, paints, broad spectrum things. Should be exciting!

Do you have any advice for someone who’s thinking about applying for a grant?

Don’t be afraid! If you have the passion and a good idea, just go for it. Northern Health has been really helpful through all of the granting process, so you don’t really have much to worry about! What’s the worst that can happen? Your idea might be the next best thing for the whole community, which is so positive. Just do it!

Apply today!

Grant applications are being accepted March 1 through to March 31. Check out the application guide and form and get started! If you’re looking for tips on applying, check out our handy blog, IMAGINE Community Grants: Key factors for success in community!


In focus: Robyn Turner, Clinical Dietitian, Vanderhoof

Robyn Turner standing on a hill above a valley and river.Robyn Turner never thought she would have the career she’s had working as a clinical dietitian in Vanderhoof. Learn what it’s like to work in a rural Northern BC community and what kind of work she’s most passionate about.

Tell me about your career as a dietitian.

I never really anticipated coming to the North, let alone a rural community. My career turned out different than what I first had in mind. Nonetheless, it’s been very exciting!

By taking the opportunity to come North, I’ve been able to be myself as a dietitian and get my feet wet in a lot of areas – including working with individuals admitted to hospital through one-on-one nutrition counselling, and those living in complex care.

I’ve been able to use creativity and initiative to improve nutrition in my area, and because it’s not as congested here in Vanderhoof, I can do more things than I could in a bigger centre. When I was just starting as a dietitian, I thought I would be working casual for a few years, filling temporary roles, and then naturally work in a specific area. That’s definitely not the case with my work now, which I enjoy. I like being able to do a little bit of everything.

What’s your take on what dietitians do?

A dietitian supports individuals where they’re at in reaching their health goals. Doesn’t matter if they’re told to go see a dietitian or are self-motivated to change something about their health. Wherever they’re at, a dietitian is there to help support them and achieve their goals to improve their overall health.

Could you describe a day in your life as a dietitian?

There is no “regular” day. Generally my day starts with rounds, or I might go to another community. In a day I may see someone for a diabetes consultation, or modify a tube feed or do a swallow assessment. Sometimes I see children who are having challenges with eating or chronic constipation. My day always varies!

I pull a lot of areas of nutrition together when I’m working. I never know if I’m going to be doing acute care, or focusing on quality and enjoyment of life in complex care, or advocating for someone. I have to be ready to use all my nutrition knowledge. Sometimes I’m pulled into community practice meetings, quality improvement initiative meetings with the hospital kitchen staff, or community projects with schools or local First Nations.

For example, I was working on a family food skills project at the Men’s Shed in Vanderhoof. The Shed is a space for men in the community with a kitchen and a place to hang out. I was part of a food skills program there for men who were living alone for the first time or had partners with a change in health. These men were all of a sudden having to cook for themselves for the first time and didn’t know where to start. If people don’t have food skills, it’s something they need to build. Building those food skills is something I’m really passionate about.

Basically in my job you never know what hat you’re going to be wearing – it could be a counselor or advocate hat or a clinical dietitian hat. It’s always different, which keeps it exciting.

What’s one thing someone might not know about your role?

People often don’t realize that advocacy is a big part of my job. I’m not always seeing individuals one-on-one. I spend a lot of time helping people understand nutrition issues. My role involves a lot of nutrition awareness and advocacy. There’s a lot of collaboration and quality improvement involved in the different health improvement projects I’m a part of. If there’s a primary care community project focused on health and I don’t go – that’s a big part of health that’s not present. I represent nutrition and health and can provide education to other people on my health care team.

What part of your role is the most rewarding?

When you have those moments of success – those clients who are dedicated to change, who come to all their appointments with you, and take your recommendations and apply them to their life and see positive results in their health – that’s rewarding. It might take six months or a year for them to see those results. When you have clients who can get off medications or see their numbers come down – that’s when you know the stuff you’re saying and the recommendations you’re giving are working.

It’s nice too, when there are people in the community that show appreciation for my work, especially in a small town. I’ve had people recognize and draw on the importance of my role. There’s also a lot of doctors I work with who are appreciative and will advocate for me. When I came to the North I didn’t expect to have as much interaction with doctors as I do. They’re present and invested and actually want to hear my opinion. Overall, it’s been great being in Vanderhoof. Three years later and I’m excited to see where else I can go in this job!


How to see a registered dietitian

Do you think you, your patients, or someone you know could benefit from talking to a dietitian?

  • There are dietitians in various communities across Northern Health – you might need a referral. Talk to your health care provider to learn more.
  • BC residents can also access Dietitian Services at HealthLink BC, by calling 8-1-1 (or 604-215-8110 in some areas) and asking to talk to a dietitian.


Nutrition Month Eating Together contest

During Nutrition Month throughout March, we want to see how you eat together! Organize a date to eat together, show us, and be entered to win an Instant Pot! This could mean grabbing a coffee and scone with a colleague, organizing a lunch date with a friend, having a potluck with family – whatever this means to you! Set a date, eat together, and show us to win! See our Eating Together contest page for complete details.

Haylee Seiter

About Haylee Seiter

Haylee is a communications advisor for Public and Population Health. She grew up in Prince George and is proud to call Northern BC home. During university she found her passion for health promotions by volunteering with the Canadian Cancer Society and became interested in marketing through the UNBC JDC West team. When she's not dreaming up communications strategies, she can be found cycling with the Wheelin Warriors or spending time with family and friends. (NH Blog Admin)


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.)


Picture YOU Healthy week 2 winner

Taking time for physical activity

Amy Stephen is our week 2 winner – she took this photo of seniors taking time for physical activity in Vanderhoof. A great example of both physical activity and building healthy communities!

Building on the fantastic momentum of week 1, week 2 brought us even more amazing photos in the Picture YOU Healthy challenge – both in quality and in thought. We are so pleased at how YOU are interpreting our healthy eating, active living and healthy community messages — and for sharing such great photos of yourselves, your family, friends and community members! Thank you everyone for your submissions!

After careful deliberation, we have chosen our week 2 winner – Amy Stephen, from Vanderhoof, B.C., who submitted this great photo of seniors at the Vanderhoof Seniors Centre taking time for physical activity. Amy describes the photo as “Vanderhoof seniors reaching for the world!”

In speaking to Amy, she told us that she will choose the fitness equipment prize and share it with the Seniors Centre! Amy, you’re definitely an inspiration for building healthy communities!!

We encourage everyone to keep sending in their entries. You have a few more days – deadline to enter to win in the Picture YOU Healthy challenge before March 22. Next week, we’ll showcase this week’s (week 3) winner, and on Monday, we will reveal the top 10 photo submissions and give YOU the chance to vote for the winner on our Facebook page. Stay tuned!

Jessica Quinn

About Jessica Quinn

Jessica Quinn is the regional manager of digital communications and public 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 manages NH's content channels, including social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, 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. (NH Blog Admin)