Garden Café Feeding Conversations about Healthy Eating Habits

James Cook, left, a volunteer for the Loaves and Fishes Food Bank and Sean Weins, Garden Café Chef, share stories in the Snaw-Naw-As Health Centre’s Garden of Spiritual Healing.

James Cook, left, a volunteer for the Loaves and Fishes Food Bank, and Sean Wiens, Garden Café Chef, share stories in the Snaw-Naw-As Health Centre’s Garden of Spiritual Healing. Vancouver Island University Photo

November 25, 2019 - 11:00am

VIU project at Snaw-Naw-As Health Centre helps increase food knowledge, cooking skills and promotes conversations about healthy food choices.

Engaging people in conversations about how to make simple, healthy meals at home is at the heart of the Vancouver Island University (VIU) Garden Café project running at the Snaw-Naw-As Health Centre this fall.

The café currently features Chef Sean Wiens, who offers samples of vegetable dishes he’s prepared prior to pick-up hours at the Loaves and Fishes Community Food Bank held at the health centre. When the community starts to lineup to collect their weekly groceries, Wiens has one dish cooking, so the air is saturated with delicious aromas. Attendees can chat with him about the food he has prepared and take recipe cards so they can make the same dishes at home.

“At the core of what we are trying to do is help people use less desirable fruits and vegetables and things they are not accustomed to cooking or don’t include in their normal diet,” says Wiens. “We’re trying to demonstrate ways of cooking them that are really easy to do at home, but also incorporate fresh, simple ingredients.”

The Garden Café simmered into existence when organizers and volunteers consistently found that less commonly used vegetables such as squash, zucchini and greens were being left behind during the Loaves and Fishes Community Food Bank pick up hours at the health centre. 

“The feedback we were receiving from the community was, ‘I don’t know what this is,’ or ‘I don’t know how to cook it,’” says Jessica Pyett, Mount Arrowsmith Biosphere Region Research Institute (MABRRI) Project Coordinator. “So, we decided to implement a program that supports learning how to cook with under-used weekly produce. The Garden Café has been well received by the community, and is teaching simple, yet delicious ways to eat healthy. The grant from Island Health has gone a long way to help educate people on how to use the various fresh produce available each week at the Community Food Bank.”

Snaw-Naw-As community member James Cook, who has been volunteering at the food bank for the past eight months, says it’s a great environment to work in.

“There are people laughing. People having fun. We try to make it that kind of environment so people don’t feel self-conscious about coming in to get food to sustain their weekly food intake,” he says. “Physical and mental health go hand-in-hand and if you’re hungry the majority of the time you’re not making good decisions. I think we are helping people in more ways than just giving food.”

He says the atmosphere has changed dramatically since the addition of the Garden Café.

“It’s all giggles and wiggles. Everyone is happy. Some of the youth are wide-eyed and I think that is awesome because they are learning things they didn’t know,” says Cook. “I’ve seen my father, and he’s not a veggie guy, saying, ‘This is good.’”

Cook says one of the best aspects is people can see how easy it is to make the meals. All you need is a sharp knife, hot plate and pot.

“That’s the beauty of it to me because you don’t need any special tools other than the ambition to do it,” he says.

The Garden Café is a partnership between the Snaw-Naw-As First Nation, VIU Mount Arrowsmith Biosphere Region Research Institute and Island Health, which provided an $11,812 Community Wellness Grant for the project. 

“Nutrition is an important factor in reducing the risk of illnesses like diabetes and heart disease. It’s wonderful to see how this project is supporting health and wellness in an enjoyable and accessible way,” said Dr. Paul Hasselback, Medical Health Officer for Island Health. 

The Garden Café project has been anticipated for years.

“I remember the late Chief David Bob telling me that he had a dozen squash in his freezer,” says Graham Sakaki, MABRRI’s Research and Community Engagement Coordinator.  “He said nobody ever took the squash from the Healthy Food Program, which has long since been discontinued, as it was not part of the community’s diet. He told me we need to teach people how to cook these foods so they can take them and eat them. Now years later, that’s exactly what we are doing.” 

The café builds upon work done in the Snaw-Naw-As Health Centre’s Garden of Spiritual Healing, a project to increase food security, community capacity building, education and outreach. The Garden of Spiritual Healing was created in 2017 thanks to a partnership between the Snaw-Naw-As First Nation and VIU with the support of various donors.



Rachel Stern, Communications Officer, Vancouver Island University

P: 250.740.6560 l  C: 250.618.0373 l E: | T: @VIUNews

Tags: First Nations | MABRRI | In the Community

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