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Moving food closer to home and health care


Tower garden with small green seedlings in separate compartments
A hydroponic tower garden at Stuart Nechako Manor, with seedlings planted and ready for the season ahead.

March is nutrition month! This year’s theme, “Ingredients for a Healthier Tomorrow,” focuses on supporting a more sustainable food system for all. Northern Health’s Position on Healthy Eating recognizes that healthy eating is about more than individual food choices, and includes components such as resilient food systems, Indigenous food sovereignty, and food security.

Follow along this month for inspiring stories, from the firsthand experiences of a dietitian-farmer to initiatives that bring more local foods into Northern schools and hospitals. Also, stay tuned as Northern Health dietitians share tips for promoting more sustainable ways of eating at home, at work, and in the community!

Here, regional menu dietitian Robyn Turner describes how Northern Health has adapted to recent changes in the food supply, including plans to use more local food in Northern facilities.


What three things do you need daily to support your own health and well-being? I bet food is on your list! Food not only supports physical health, but connects us to our families, cultures, and communities, and this in turn supports our social, emotional, and spiritual health.

In the past couple of years, being able to get enough of the foods you enjoy has not always been easy. Recent fires and floods, along with the pandemic, have put stress on the food system. The evidence is the sometimes-empty shelves and/or limited options at grocery stores.

Navigating food system challenges at Northern Health

Food services in Northern Health facilities have been experiencing the same gaps in food supply as Northern households. Like you, Northern Health’s Regional Diet Office has had to be creative to find products to maintain menu standards. Northern Health’s menus include three meals and two to three snacks daily to meet a variety of nutrition needs for our diverse patient and resident populations. Our family table is slightly bigger than yours, though – on most days, we offer about 4,200 meals!

seedlings growing in a pan
Seedling food plants (tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, and swiss chard) are sprouted and ready to be transferred. 

But what do you do when salad’s on the menu for dinner, but you have no lettuce, cabbage, spinach, or kale? And without cold cereal, fruit, yogurt, or milk, what’s for breakfast? To address challenges like these, Northern Health has had to:

  • Serve juice in place of fruit
  • Bring in any available cold cereal options
  • Serve Melba toast with soup instead of crackers
  • Not serve salads at meals unless a diner specifically requests them

Finding solutions through local food

Recognizing that future food supply issues are likely, investing in local food makes good sense. One way to support local food is to grow your own. Making this decision is slightly more complicated for Northern Health than for the average Northerner who has access to land and the ability to purchase and grow seeds or seedlings.

Older woman's arm planting seedlings in a tower garden
Sharon, a resident at Stuart Nechako Manor, plants seedlings in the hydroponic system. Hydroponics is a system where pans are grown in nutrient-rich water (no soil). 

As a result, four Northern Health departments – the Regional Diet Office, Environmental Health, Risk Management, and Population and Public Health – have developed a process that will allow items from onsite gardens to be used safely in Northern Health kitchens.

Stuart Nechako Manor in Vanderhoof, Gateway Lodge in Prince George, and Rotary Manor in Dawson Creek will be piloting the process to safely plant, grow, harvest, and enjoy foods grown on their grounds. The experiences at these sites will identify what works and where there are opportunities for improvement.

While Northern Health will never be able to grow all the food on our menus, we hope that in the near future, you may see the message “Garden Item Used” on a meal tray in your local facility, indicating that an item from the facility’s own garden was used to prepare the meal.

Let’s hope for good growing weather this spring and summer, and a successful and tasty harvest season!