VSB's West 1 Community Schools Team Hosts an Edible Summer with Healthy Eaters and Leaders (HEAL) Summer Camp

As summer starts to wind down so too do kids camps around the city. But to the casual observer of Healthy Eaters and Leaders Camp you would never know that was the case. With one week left, HEAL staff say they are literally packing in as much fun and learning as they can.

HEAL Camper eating

Designed for Grade 1 to 7 students, HEAL is much more than just a camp about cooking. Daily activities include outdoor and indoor games, garden tours, crafts and day trips. Throughout the summer students partake in adventures across the lower mainland, with locations like Maplewood Farm, Granville Island, Grouse Mountain, Science World, and Jericho Beach.

"Trips like the one planned to Jericho Beach tomorrow encourages kids to play outdoors and to learn about the flora and fauna in our rich coastal ecosystem - crabs, kelp, jellyfish, even sand fleas," says Camp Director Julie Van Oyen. "It's really great. This camp covers everything - science, arts and crafts, games, and sports. I've worked in other camps and I'm very impressed with the scope here. It's an amazing program."

David Han, a grade 12 Churchill Secondary student and HEAL Camp Counselor, commented that it was wonderful to see kids attitudes to food change over the course of their camp.

"There are so many kids in week one that won't try certain vegetables, like zucchini, and then we make chocolate zucchini muffins and they love them. We show the zucchini and they realize it can be delicious," said Han

HEAL Camper

The Healthy Eaters and Leaders camp is generously supported by the BC Dairy Association and Whole Foods Market.  Van Oyen says the importance of these community partnerships is critical to the camp

"The BC Dairy Association visited our camp twice with a live cow and calf in a trailer equipped with an automatic milking machine, which nicely complimented our curriculum of food education, supporting the local food industry and demonstrating how to nourish one's body with a well-balanced diet."

In addition, the BC Dairy Association provides all the camp t-shirts for the summer (one per week, per child = about 500 shirts, including staff and volunteer shirts).

Additional activities are also provided by each Whole Foods Markets. Each week Whole Foods staff visit the camp and lead the group in hands-on activities like making seed balls and recycling activities.

HEAL's healthy eating activities have proved popular among parents. For the past five years, Healthy Eaters and Leaders Camp has been growing in popularity with registration numbers growing each year.

For eight weeks starting in early July dozens of students attend week-long camps, but as Van Oyen notes they have many students who come for one or two weeks at a time on and off throughout the summer in addition to two brothers who have come for all eight weeks.

HEAL vegetable garden

If all the cooking, playing, education, and adventure wasn't enough to make this program truly amazing each year the students are given a choice of three charities to support. Last year students chose the BCSPCA, this year they are raising money for BC Children's Hospital. Funds are raised through events like the friends and family Pancake Breakfast (all the food is prepared by campers) and the end of summer Community Fair.

"It's a wonderful event where the kids harvest the food they planted at the beginning of summer, wash it all, and then decide on how much to charge, then we plant vegetables for the fall garden," she says. "It's a Farmer's Market with games and face painting, arts and crafts. We hope you can come out and join in the fun."

This year's HEAL farmer's market was a terrific success. The students ended up raising $486.75 for Children's Hospital. HEAL camp staff say the process not only helped green their thumbs but also taught the students about social responsibility.

For more information about the Healthy Eaters and Leaders camp, please contact Marisol Petersen at mpetersen@vsb.bc.ca  

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