09/17/2016 19:24 EDT | Updated 09/18/2017 01:12 EDT

Canning program aims to bring food security to northern B.C.

A new canning program is taking advantage of empty community kitchens in northern B.C. — and trying to reduce strain on the region's health authority in the process.

Empowering Family Health is a new program running in the North Cariboo district that aims to promote healthier lifestyles through activities like canning and gardening in small rural communities.

It takes advantage of under-utilized community halls and transforms them into spaces where community members can grow and preserve their own food, free of charge.

The program, led by Heloise Dixon-Warren, is a collaboration between government health officials, non-profit organizations and community organizers.

"It's about bringing people together," said Dixon-Warren. "Supporting them to learn about how to grow gardens, how to preserve food, how to process it, and actually put it on the table."

According to a recent report released from the University of Toronto, 16.4 per cent of all houses in Northern B.C. were food insecure in 2012. Food security and food preservation are at the heart of the Empowering Family Health program, which received $20,000 in funding from Northern Health. 

"Northern Health has actually identified and recognized that in order to reduce the costs on the core health services, we need to bring people together at the grassroots level and try to encourage them to be more active and to eat healthier food," said Dixon-Warren.

The first phase of the program has included securing canning equipment and giving it to the community halls in towns, including Bouchie Lake and 10 Mile Lake. The team holds food preservation workshops and even helps set up the gardens.

"A lot of services have been centralized in the cities. A lot of our halls, our rural facilities are actually being under-utilized. We're trying to reverse that trend," she said. 

"A lot of [community halls] have amazing commercial kitchens.".

Phase two of the program will be implemented in February 2017. According to Dixon-Warren, it will aim to facilitate more workshops, and create more community-specific projects.

"If this creates a bit of momentum and it brings more people together, I think in the long run it's going to be hugely successful."

With files from CBC's Radio West