LITTLE CURRENT – Kristin Bickell, who works at Noojmowin Teg Health Centre, has been named as one of eight public health heroes by Public Health Sudbury and Districts (PHSD).

Positive contributions come in all sizes—big or small—and all are essential to making communities healthier for everyone. Today, eight recipients of the newly created Public Health Hero Award were announced at the meeting of the board of health for PHSD, described a release issued November 22.

“Our communities are full of public health heroes who help promote health and well-being with family, friends, neighbours and co-workers, said Rene Lapierre, chair of the board of health for PHSD, at a meeting last week. “This is an opportunity to recognize those contributions.”

“Public health heroes put public health into action and make tangible, positive differences in their communities,” said Dr. Penny Sutcliffe, medical officer of health and chief executive officer, PHSD. “It is our privilege to honour people and organizations in our communities for their efforts to make their neighbourhoods or workplaces healthier and to promote and protect health and prevent disease for everyone.”

Ms. Bickell was recognized by PHSD, “for co-ordinating the seasonal planning of 17 community gardens in 11 communities and facilitating the construction of over 150 home gardens for people in need on Manitoulin Island.”

Public Health Hero Award recipients are nominated in the spring and fall and are selected based on their actions to make a health-enhancing difference in their local community and efforts that align with PHSD’s vision of healthier communities for all.

The nomination letter of Ms. Bickell for the recognition states, “this is public health in action! Kristin is making a difference on Turtle Island. Her efforts directly align with all of our public health priorities, including creating equitable opportunities through empowering marginalized persons; developing meaningful relationships for collective and community benefits; responding to community needs through practice excellence; and actively working as a champion for positive community change. In her work as a public health hero, Kristin has continually demonstrated humility, trust and respect while fostering opportunities for health.”

“I didn’t know much about the award until now,” said Ms. Bickell, when contacted by the Recorder last week. “But I’m honored to have been nominated and selected for this type of recognition. 

She works with Noojmowin Teg, and the award recognizes, for example, the work she and others do in regards to the Manitoulin Community Fresh Food Initiative and the Child Poverty Task Force. 

Ms. Bickell explained, “we have installed family gardens for 150 (families) at people’s homes on the Island. This mostly targets homes with children under the age of 12,” in both First Nations and non-First Nations communities.  

The Child Poverty Task Force (CPTF) was formed eight years ago to improve children’s knowledge of and access to healthy foods, said Ms. Bickell. She explained, the Good Food Box Program was established to help families purchase, at wholesale cost, a quantity of fresh produce. The program now runs free of outside funding and services 150 families per month. The Grow-A-Row program was established to add locally grown vegetables to the Good Food Box. The CPTF has been installing gardens at homes across the Island and supporting families in growing food in their backyard.

“In 2017, Noojmowin Teg Health Centre assisted the Child Poverty Task Force in launching two special projects through funding received by the Ontario Trillium Foundation and Local Poverty Reduction Fund,” said Ms. Bickell. “The Manitoulin Community Fresh Food Initiative and Indigenous Food Sovereignty projects were born and they focus on developing local food systems, engaging the Island community in food sovereignty initiatives, and supporting the communities to strengthen connections to traditional foods.”

The Manitoulin Community Fresh Food Initiative has supported more than 150 families with raised bed garden installs; 11 community gardens that regularly contribute produce to the Good Food Box and local food bank; four community indoor growing opportunities; Seed to Table and food literacy workshops and public forums within the communities and schools. A website, Local Food Manitoulin, has been developed to create a network and hub for all local food activities and advocacy work across the Manitoulin District, she continued. 

Ms. Bickell explained, “the Indigenous Food Sovereignty project, Mshiikehn Mnis Wenjiing (Turtle Island Roots) helps individuals reconcile their relationship with Indigenous food systems and practices. Mshiikehn Mnis Wenjiing follows the four seasons in providing food literacy teachings related to food production, harvesting, preparation and storage of traditional Indigenous and local foods. The Harvest to Share program is unique because it works with local harvesters to store, use as a teaching tool, and distribute wild foods to community members. A referral, either from self or agency, is required to access the produce and meat that are stored in freezers at our main location. In addition to the Harvest to Share program, various gatherings are hosted to help increase knowledge and skills related to harvesting, preparation and storage of wild local foods.”

“Moving forward, the Manitoulin Community Fresh Food Initiative and Mshiikehn Mnis Wenjiing have joined to form Local Food Manitoulin to streamline our goals and objectives and ensure sustainability of the projects,” added Ms. Bickell. The website is