Lakehead researcher studying the impact of climate change, invasive spiny water flea on Quetico Park fishes

Photo of Dr. Michael Rennie on a boat.

Dr. Michael Rennie is looking specifically at Lake Herring and Walleye to help inform adaptive management plans for Quetico Park.

June 19, 2020 – Thunder Bay, Ont.

A Lakehead University researcher has secured a $75,000 Quetico Foundation grant over the next three years to evaluate how invasive spiny water flea and climate change are affecting the early growth rates and mercury loads of fish at Quetico Park.

Dr. Michael Rennie, an Associate Professor in Biology, Canada Research Chair in Freshwater Ecology and Fisheries, and Research Fellow at the Experimental Lakes Area, is looking specifically at Lake Herring and Walleye to help inform adaptive management plans for Quetico Park.

“Recreational fisheries are a keystone to local economies, worth $1.3 billion in Ontario alone per year,” Dr. Rennie said.

“This is especially true in remote park regions like Quetico Provincial Park, a mecca for backcountry canoeists and fishermen. However, invasive species like the spiny water flea and climate change threaten these pristine systems, and may require a change in management strategies given these ongoing environmental changes,” he said.

“We are extremely pleased to have received this funding from the Foundation for our first Lakehead University/Quetico Foundation Research Program,” said Dr. Andrew P. Dean, Lakehead’s Vice-President, Research and Innovation.

“This project will yield important results with regards to the ecology at Quetico Park and impacts of climate change. The park is one of those pristine treasures in our own backyard. Understanding and managing changes to the wildlife and fish in the park is essential to sustainability and resilience within a changing environment,” Dr. Dean added.

“The Quetico Foundation is thrilled to be working with Lakehead, and in particular, with Dr. Rennie who has an outstanding background in aquatic ecosystems,” said Arthur Saunders, Chair of the Foundation’s Science Committee.

“The Quetico Foundation is dedicated to the protection of wilderness and we anticipate that Dr. Rennie’s research will add to our understanding of how Quetico Park’s environment is reacting to the forces of change,” Saunders added.






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Lakehead University is a fully comprehensive university with approximately 9,700 full-time equivalent students and over 2,000 faculty and staff at two campuses in Orillia and Thunder Bay, Ontario. Lakehead has 10 faculties, including Business Administration, Education, Engineering, Graduate Studies, Health & Behavioural Sciences, Law, Natural Resources Management, the Northern Ontario School of Medicine, Science & Environmental Studies, and Social Sciences & Humanities. In 2019, Maclean’s 2020 University Rankings, once again, included Lakehead University among Canada’s Top 10 primarily undergraduate universities, while Research Infosource named Lakehead 'Research University of the Year' in its category for the fifth consecutive year. Visit


Research in Action: Mass timber building components tested at one-of-a-kind lab


Originally published in The Chronicle Journal on July 21, 2020

Dr. SalemSalem’s doctoral student, Adam Petrycki

(left) Dr. Sam Salem, lab’s founder and director and an associate professor in Lakehead’s department of Civil Engineering, (right) doctoral student, Adam Petrycki

Tucked in a corner of Lakehead University’s campus, overlooking the placid waters of the McIntyre River, sits a nondescript building. While it may not attract much notice, this facility is the centrepiece of research that may pave the way for new kinds of materials to be used in modern building construction.

The Fire Testing and Research Laboratory boasts a custom-designed furnace that provides crucial data on the fire resistance of construction materials, building components such as beams and columns, as well as floor and wall assemblies. And with changes to national building codes that allow wood as a primary material in buildings up to six storeys in height, the benefit to local forestry and manufacturing could be significant.

“Without this facility I wouldn’t have this opportunity for advanced research in this fast-developing area of structural fire engineering, and also to help businesses develop innovative products and to serve the community,” says Dr. Sam Salem, the lab’s founder and director and an associate professor in Lakehead’s department of Civil Engineering.

This world-class fire testing facility allows the testing of new engineered-wood products taking place at Lakehead. At the Civil Engineering’s structures lab, products such as glued-laminated timber (glulam) and cross-laminated timber (CLT) are tested for strength, durability and their behaviour under normal stresses.

Next door at the fire lab, the materials are subjected to various fire scenarios, where temperatures in the furnace can reach 1,300 degrees Celsius. “Testing structural components and assemblies in the fire lab is the final stage in the research program, which is basically the main thing we look at to see how the building components behave or can withstand loads when exposed to fire,” Salem explains. “We have to design a safe building system that can first stand the load without the fire, then we expose it to the fire as the extreme loading condition.”

Opened in May 2016 at a cost of more than $1.2 million, the fire lab is the only facility of its kind at a Canadian university.

“This is very unique testing because there are very few facilities around the world that can test like this under this extreme temperature,” says Salem.

Internationally recognized as an expert in the field of structural fire engineering, Salem has conducted dozens of large-scale research projects since he arrived at Lakehead in 2012. Over the years, he has helped train several dozen highly qualified personnel, such as post-doctoral fellows and graduate students. Recently, he and graduate student Cory Hubbard have filed a patent for an innovative beam-end connection configuration for mass timber structural frame systems, which can stand fire exposure for an hour without any additional fire protection.

Salem’s doctoral student, Adam Petrycki, is involved in a project regarding the behaviour of timber-concrete composite floor systems at normal and elevated temperatures, focusing on their use in mid- and high-rise timber construction. His role is to develop a research plan, design and carry out an experimental study, analyze the results and then develop a methodology for their design and application in future construction projects.

The benefits, Petrycki explains, will be to potentially increase the use of this type of mass timber systems in multi-storey buildings. With a plentiful and renewable resource such as wood, Canadian forestry sector and wood companies can develop more mass-timber products for domestic use and export.

“The field of heavy timber construction and the fire safety of buildings is an area of research I’m passionate about, and being able to conduct experimental studies in the unique setting of the LU fire lab has been a unique and rewarding experience,” Petrycki says.

Salem has attracted more than $1.6 million in research grants and awards, from, among others: the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, Canada Foundation for Innovation, Ontario Centres of Excellence, the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation, the Ontario Mass Timber Institute, and the provincial Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry.

Research in Action highlights the work of Lakehead University in various fields of research.

Dr. Sam Salem lab’s founder and director and an associate professor in Lakehead’s department of Civil Engineering

Research in Action: Charting a Course to Treat Issues Stemming From Childhood Trauma


Originally published in The Chronicle Journal on August 7, 2020

Dr. Chris MushquashElaine ToombsJessie Lund

(left to right) Dr. Chris Mushquash, Lakehead University professor and a registered clinical psychologist, is overseeing research with Dilico Anishinabek Family Care. photo credit: Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre; Elaine Toombs is a PhD student in Clinical Psychology. submitted photo; Jessie Lund is a PhD student in Clinical Psychology. submitted photo.


 A partnership between Lakehead University and a First Nations organization that is examining the links between childhood trauma and adult physical and mental health issues may lead to wellness programs that could improve the lives of clients from all walks of life.

The collaboration with Dilico Anishinabek Family Care is looking at the areas of abuse, neglect, and the resulting personal challenges. The aim is to develop appropriate services for treatment.

“We know adverse childhood experiences contribute to a range of social, emotional and physical difficulties,” says Dr. Christopher Mushquash, Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Mental Health and Addiction at Lakehead University, Interim Executive Vice President Research at Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre, and Chief Scientist at Thunder Bay Regional Health Research Institute.

“These are well-established relationships in the research literature. However, these specific relationships have not been examined within a First Nations addiction treatment setting.”

The project involves the Adult Residential Treatment Centre, located on the Fort William First Nation. Two graduate students are working on this venture, which consists of interviews with staff and more than 100 clients, as well as data collection and analysis.

“This is truly community-based participatory research, as all study activities are completed with support and collaboration from multiple people,” says Elaine Toombs, who has been working with Dilico over five years and is completing her PhD in clinical psychology.

Co-investigator Jessie Lund is entering the third year of her PhD program. She hopes the research will provide a better understanding of how traumatic childhood experiences increase the risk of substance use problems, particularly how it relates to the impact of colonization on Indigenous peoples.

“We hope this research will inform prevention and intervention efforts, including how best to support individuals seeking treatment for substance use through consideration of the different pathways between early adverse experiences and substance use problems in adulthood,” Lund says.

A registered clinical psychologist, Dr. Mushquash says the goal is to assist clients in understanding the nature of their pain and “how trauma can affect a number of experiences people have in their life, but also look at pathways for healing.”

Mushquash, who is also director of the Centre for Rural and Northern Health Research, has a decade-long relationship with Dilico that encompasses various research initiatives. With its head office on the Fort William First Nation, Dilico provides child welfare along with health and mental health and addiction services to First Nation members in Thunder Bay and the 13 member communities within the Robinson Superior Treaty area along the north shore of Lake Superior.

Mushquash, who is Ojibway and a member of Pays Plat First Nation, says the partnership with Dilico is focused on research and evaluation. While the studies by students Lund and Toombs should wrap up in the coming months, other work continues — part of the mandate to meet community needs and priorities in a way that acknowledges the unique cultures and history of First Nations people in Northwestern Ontario.

“Our plan is to continue collecting data and further understanding what the nature of adverse childhood experiences is within our client group,” he says. “As we begin to understand the core issues, we’ll be able to tailor appropriate culture- and psychological-based supports for clients and then hopefully begin to measure those outcomes across the long term.”

The Adult Residential Treatment Centre is part of a network of addiction treatment facilities catering to both Indigenous and non-Indigenous clients. Mushquash says the latter also find this model of cultural connectedness to be meaningful on their journey to recovery.

Dilico has research partnerships with the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre and the local branch of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH). The work with Lakehead University, explains John Dixon, Dilico’s director of mental health and addiction services, is done in accordance with the wishes of its member communities and the First Nations principles of OCAP (ownership, control, access and possession) of data collection processes in their communities.

“Our long term hopes are to facilitate the creation of Indigenous knowledge and research that is of benefit to the peoples we work with and that it assists the leadership of the communities to make informed decisions about addictions and mental health program development,” Dixon says.


Dr. Chris Mushquash, Lakehead University professor and a registered clinical psychologist

Research in Action: Study charts a course to understanding depression in long-haul truck drivers


Originally published in The Chronicle Journal, September 23, 2020

Vicki KristmanNyahsa Makuto

 left: Dr. Vicki Kristman, Associate Professor and Director of Research Institute at Lakehead: EPID@Work – Enhancing the Prevention of Injury and Disability@Work; right: Nayasha Makuto, Graduate Student 

Is the unique nature of a trucker’s job a contributor to poor mental health? This was the key question that a Lakehead University project attempted to answer. By shedding light on the mental, emotional and physical health of long-haul truck drivers, researchers hope to understand why depression might be an issue in this industry and, more importantly, how to alleviate it.

“The benefit of this study is that our findings could help reveal which factors could be risk factors for depression in truckers, and perhaps help truckers, employers or public health workers get a sense of what should be changed to help prevent depression in these workers,” says Nyasha Makuto, the graduate student who spearheaded the study.

There is little research on this set of workers, explains Dr. Vicki Kristman, Makuto’s supervisor and an associate professor in Lakehead’s department of Health Sciences.

“It’s a group that needs more study,” Kristman states. “There’s been substantial research in the area of mental health with emergency personnel, such as police officers and paramedics. But we have very little knowledge about mental health in truck drivers. This is an area with many employees and it hasn’t been looked at in much detail.”

When Makuto was seeking a topic for her Master’s thesis, she settled on the field of trucking because the literature, along with labour force surveys, suggested depression was an issue in this line of work.

“Several studies found that truckers are much more likely to develop depression than both the general public and workers from many other occupations,” Makuto says. “This finding made me want to know why this might be, given that barely anyone had looked into this question and trucking is one of Canada’s most common occupations.”

As well as drafting the study’s methodology, Makuto also developed advertising posters, social media outreach and the survey itself, aiming for responses from both Canadian and American truckers. The anonymous online survey touched on several areas, such as sleep, fatigue and other stress factors such as driving duration, social isolation and violence. She particularly sought input from long-haulers, those who deliver freight over great distances and are away from home at least a day or longer.

“We wanted to understand relationships. For example, did people who drove more hours show more depressive symptoms?,” says Kristman, who is the inaugural director for the new Research Institute at Lakehead: EPID@Work – Enhancing the Prevention of Injury and Disability@Work. “Unfortunately, due to the cross-sectional nature of the study we couldn’t determine if fatigue at work leads to depression or if depression actually leads to fatigue.”

The survey opened in January and by March had responses from 355 drivers, substantially more than the 210 required for the project. The feedback has been summarized by Makuto into statistical models to show which factors are associated with depressive symptoms and if driving duration plays a role. Since it was a cross-sectional study using a convenience sample the results are not predictive and may not be representative of the entire long-haul trucker population, Kristman cautions.

“It’s highly likely that people who were experiencing mental health problems were more likely to participate than those who did not,” she explains.

The results, tracked on a 10-point scale that measures symptoms of depression, did produce notable findings. Those who have lower depressive scores report they get quality sleep and are in generally good health. Higher levels of depression were associated with fatigue, stress due to tight delivery deadlines, poor road conditions, and being away from social relations. Interestingly, Makuto also found men who never married had results associated with depression. Females reported high stress due to violence outside of work.

“We expected some of these findings, others were surprising,” Kristman says.

She notes that from this study we can’t determine whether good health equals less depressive symptoms or if less depressive symptoms results in good health. Yes, sleep, fatigue and stress play a role, but is there a direct line to depression? In any case, this is a start and may benefit the industry.

“We can try to send the message to truck drivers that if you want to keep yourself in good health, get as much sleep as possible, and let’s find ways to reduce your stress,” Kristman says. “These are things that we can inform workers about, we can work with health and safety associations to develop interventions that could potentially decrease stress and other potential risk factors. It’s important to understand what these factors are so we can examine what we’re currently doing and how we may implement change to reduce some of these factors.”

Makuto’s thesis is in the final phase of review. She will then have to formally defend her work. She hopes the results will eventually be published in scientific journals.

Research in Action: Backyard Gardening a Small Step Towards Food Sovereignty

Dr. LevkoePortinga

Photos: Dr. Charles Levkoe and Sustainable Food Systems, graduate student Rachel Portinga's research into Seed Saving.

Printed in the Chronicle Journal on October 16, 2020 

By Julio Heleno Gomes

 When the COVID-19 pandemic hit earlier this year, people started stockpiling not just hand sanitizer and toilet paper. They were also hoarding food and seeds. While it’s admirable that more people are growing their own vegetables, the produce from backyard gardens won’t improve access to nutritious food on a sufficiently large scale, says a Lakehead University researcher.

“Yes, grow some food. It’s a good idea,” Dr. Charles Levkoe agrees. “But it’s not a solution for food insecurity and it’s not going to make a huge dent in the grand scheme of things. Having said that, where it starts is people who are growing food are becoming part of a bigger dialogue about how we start to take back control of our food systems.”
Levkoe is the Canada Research Chair in Sustainable Food Systems at Lakehead. His work looks at the connections between social justice, ecological regeneration, regional economies and democratic engagement.

“Food insecurity — not having enough food — is the result of poverty,” Levkoe states, noting that in Northwestern Ontario, half the population of Indigenous communities lack access to adequate food. “But it can also be the result of systems and structures, of people essentially not able to control their food systems.” A lot of the decisions regarding food systems are made by government and big corporations. These have an impact on what people can grow and what farmers can plant.
“We are trying to understand some of the politics around seeds in this region,” Levkoe explains. “But it’s also to support people — whether home gardeners or farmers — to be able to control the knowledge around seeds, control information, control seeds themselves, how they can save them, how they can trade them, how they can develop new technologies that work for them.

“My goal,” he adds, “is to understand how to create more healthy, sustainable and equitable food systems for everybody.”
He is currently involved in a half-dozen projects, several linked to the Lake Superior Living Labs Network, a collaboration with universities in Duluth and Sault Ste. Marie. These hubs are involved in research projects and experiments around the broad concept of “Just Sustainability,” or social and environmental justice.
One of these projects is a partnership with the Lakehead University Agricultural Research Station, Roots to Harvest and Superior Seeds Producers. Rachel Portinga, a PhD student who served an internship with Roots to Harvest, explored how seed saving contributes to community well-being. In interviews with nearly two dozen participants, she focused on the barriers to and the opportunities for increased seed saving. “Seed access, seed saving and seed sovereignty are all essential to just and sustainable food systems and they help us adapt to climate change,” Portinga says.

The participants — residing in Thunder Bay and surrounding areas — grew “entry-level” crops such as tomatoes, peas, beans, cucumbers, squash, zucchini, garlic and carrot. Portinga’s research indicates participants are keen to improve their seed saving skills and increase access to locally adapted seeds. Seeds from California or southern Ontario are not suited to this climate and soil conditions, Levkoe notes, so the challenge is to find seeds that are compatible with the area’s unique characteristics. “Seeds, like people, are very adaptive,” Levkoe says. “Seeds adapt to different climates and soil, so it’s important we have the ability to grow and share seeds that are from this area. The solution is we need to be growing things here that are from this region.”

Portinga hopes her research can assist Roots to Harvest and Superior Seed Producers in developing supports and educational opportunities for local food growers to expand their skills to include seed saving.
“With many of these supports, I could see the Thunder Bay region having a strong community of seed savers who gather, swap seeds, exchange knowledge and generally help our community of growers be more self-reliant, be confident in their own seeds, and be proud and happy their seed networks are providing safe, locally-adapted food for families,” she says.

However, the issue goes beyond small garden plots. Along with thinking on multiple levels, we also need to understand what’s happening elsewhere and put people in contact with each other to take back control of local food systems, Levkoe says. “When we talk about food security we talk about poverty, equity and systems level things,” he says. “Food insecurity was not started in Thunder Bay, it’s not going to be solved in Thunder Bay. We can be part of a bigger solution. We need to be thinking about the structures and systems that create poverty, that create inequality. That’s where the solutions are, and the seed thing is a huge part of it.”



Research in Action: Cloverbelt Co-Op Offers Insight for Northwest Agriculture

Tim and Bob Wall
Photo cutline: From left, Bob and Tim Wall run Wall’s farm, just south of Oxdrift. The farm is a
member of the Cloverbelt Local Food Co-Operative. photo credit to Cloverbelt Local Food Co-Operative

Chronicle Journal November 8, 2017.

Dryden-based Cloverbelt Local Food Cooperative is a non-profit distribution network that connects 130 local food producers to consumers across the region.

As co-op members, consumers can browse and order a producer’s wares online, and then pick
them up at one of five distribution points. But Cloverbelt does much more than distribute
food—the typical function of a food co-op—which is why it is so interesting to Dr. Charles
Levkoe, Canada Research Chair in Sustainable Food Systems and Assistant Professor of Health
Sciences at Lakehead University.

Cloverbelt, under the direction of President Jen Springett, has built a community greenhouse
and revitalized an abattoir, and is working to find ways to bring fresh food to remote First
Nation communities, among other projects. Because it’s unique, Cloverbelt was included as one
of four case studies in Dr. Levkoe’s research on informal and under-recognized contributions of
food initiatives in the region, funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of

“Our work on this project is coming out of the needs of the region, not from us as researchers. I
am interested in how research can help to fill gaps and build capacity,” said Dr. Levkoe.
In partnership with Cloverbelt and others, Dr. Levkoe has worked closely with Dr. Connie
Nelson, Professor Emeritus of Social Work at Lakehead, among others, to support the
development of a regional food charter for Northwestern Ontario. A food charter would
recognize the right of every individual to have access to enough safe and nutritious food to stay
healthy and have energy for daily life, and provide policy recommendations to ensure this right.
“The food charters project is a synergy of researchers and co-op members,” Springett said. “We
know the food landscape in the region, and we’re good at outreach and talking to people about
food, but it would be difficult for an organization like ours to write a charter. Working with the
university has allowed us to develop evidence to support what we already know from our work
on the ground.”

In addition to developing the food charter, Dr. Levkoe’s team gathered more information about
producers’ experiences of being part of the co-op. Allison Streutker, who recently completed
her Honours Bachelor of Psychology at Lakehead, was one of four research assistants who
worked on the project. Streutker’s interest in the project came partly from her experience
growing up on a dairy farm in Slate River Valley, Ont., just outside Thunder Bay. She conducted
interviews to find out how Cloverbelt benefits individuals, businesses, and the environment.

“There is only so much you can learn in a classroom versus hands on. I liked that I was able to
build a relationship with Cloverbelt members,” said Streutker, adding that she also explored
Cloverbelt’s greenhouse project.
“Allison – as an outside researcher – was able to validate the importance of the work being
done through Cloverbelt and identify some of its challenges,” Dr. Levkoe said.
Springett said that Streutker’s feedback has been valuable, and that they will use the
information to plan future education and services for their members.
You can learn more about Cloverbelt at

Research in Action: Lac Seul/Ecuador Exchange Offers New Insights Into Tourism Potential

Frederico Oliveira

Photo Cutline: In Lac Seul, from left, Jairo Calapucha, Tom Chisel, Frederico Oliveira, Jeremy Capay, Fernando Romero, Gavin Shields, Brian McLaren, Rhonda Koster, Patricio Lozano, and José Calapucha. Sitting in front of the group is Paul Shiguango.

 Published in the Chronicle Journal Monday, April 1, 2019.

In 2018 Lakehead University researchers and students had a unique opportunity to facilitate and take part in an exchange between two Indigenous communities: Lac Seul First Nation in Ontario and Verde Sumaco in Ecuador. The goal of this project, funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Council, was to compare experiences of nature- and culture-based tourism in the two communities’ traditional territories. Both communities are looking to land-based tourism as an economic opportunity that may also serve cultural and ecological preservation goals.

 The team from Lakehead University included Drs. Frederico Oliveira (Associate Professor, Anthropology) and Brian McLaren (Associate Professor, Natural Resources Management) as leaders of the project, Drs. Rhonda Koster (Associate Professor, Outdoor Recreation, Parks and Tourism), Rosemary Coombe (Canada Research Chair, Anthropology, York University), and Martha Dowsley (Associate Professor, Anthropology/Geography), Lakehead students Caleb Kutcha, Benjamin Bohemier, and Gavin Shields, and Lac Seul Elders Tom Chisel and Kaaren Dannenmann.

 The exchange involved two trips: During the study break in February of 2018, the Lakehead team went to Ecuador. Then in July of 2018, a team of researchers from partner university Escuela Superior Politécnica de Chimborazo (ESPOCH), including professors Fernando Romero and Patricio Lozano, and three Verde Sumaco community members, Jairo Calapucha, José Calapucha, and Raúl Shiguango, visited Lac Seul for one week.

 Gavin Shields, a fourth year student in Indigenous Learning and Philosophy, emphasized the value of being part of the project. “It was completely different getting an experience in the field with an Indigenous community compared to being in the academic environment, because of what you learn from human interactions and building relationships, but then back in the classroom, you can connect what you learned in the field,” he said.

 While visiting each other’s communities, the teams from Canada and Ecuador engaged in a series of discussions and workshops to develop mapping skills, varied concepts of land stewardship and tourism products and itineraries. Over the course of the visits, the groups travelled on foot and by boat through the traditional territories, telling their stories of the places they visited. They discussed which of these stories might be shared with visitors as part of cultural tourism, and which are sacred and should be kept private within the community.

 “What really caught our attention and became clearer was how strongly connected to the land the communities were, in similar ways despite different cultures and languages,” said Dr. Oliveira.  “The communities understood each other very quickly despite a language barrier. They both see tourism as a way to provide some income for their communities while maintaining a sense of identity,” he said.

 Lac Seul Elder Tom Chisel reflected on parallels between the two cultures as well. “We each share similar values and beliefs about taking care of the land for future generations and being able to continue to use the land in a good way,” he said.

Jairo Calapucha, a member of Verde Sumaco, noted the importance of traditional knowledge in establishing tourism initiatives.

 “Indigenous peoples such as the Kichwas of the Amazon in Ecuador and Anishinaabe in Canada have an invaluable legacy, which, through the use of their ancestral knowledge and scientific technical knowledge, promote respect and recognition of their rights to strengthen conservation strategies and sustainable tourism based on natural and cultural heritage in their territories,” he said.

 Both communities felt that the exchange was valuable and hope to keep the relationship going. A report featuring pictures of the exchange will be published soon, and the team is also using footage taken in both Verde Sumaco and Lac Seul to put together a documentary film.

Lac Seul/Ecuador Exchange Offers New Insights Into Tourism Potential

Research in Action: Research Provides Direction for School Food Environments

School Food Environments

Photo cutline: Celebrating the launch of the school food inventory report. Front row left to right: students Jordyn Jones, Brooklyn Hawkins, Danika Banning, Emma Sloss, and parent Jessica Carfagnini.  Top row left to right: Karen Kerk (Food Strategy), students Kya Zechner and Phoebe Shaw, Dan Hobbs (Red Cross), students Jade Roberts Danni Gale, and Dawn Teepell, Barbara Parker (Lakehead University),  Erin Beagle (Roots to Harvest), Gladys Berringer (Our Kids Count). 

 Published in the Chronicle Journal Tuesday, October 22, 2019.

By: PhebeAnn Wolframe-Smith

Children’s access to and knowledge about food has an enormous impact on their wellbeing. Healthy food environments are places where children have access to nutritious foods, are learning about food and food systems, and are able to use eating, cooking and/or growing food to help build community among students, teachers, staff, and parents.

 Recognizing the importance of healthy food environments, the Thunder Bay and Area Food Strategy’s School Foods Environment Working Group set out to do a school foods inventory. The purpose of this project was to assess the current food environments of Thunder Bay and area schools, to understand where improvements could be made. The Working Group is comprised of representatives from community organizations engaged with food school programs, including the Thunder Bay Catholic District School Board and the Lakehead Public School Board.

Karen Kerk is a member of the Working Group and the Coordinator of the Thunder Bay and Area Food Strategy. “We learned a lot about how research works and about reaching out to the community. Once we started asking questions, it led to more questions we wanted to ask. It was a great process to see it come together from the initial idea to the surveys, to bringing the results back to the community and thinking about next steps,” she said.

Dr. Barbara Parker, Assistant Professor in Sociology at Lakehead University, is a member of the Working Group and led the research along with then-undergraduate student Mario Koeppel, who completed his honours thesis on the project.

 Koeppel, from Switzerland, is a Master’s student in Sociology at Lakehead who is studying student food insecurity.

 “Two important things I learned were the value of connecting with community – the Working Group was there for me to get perspectives on the work throughout the research process. The second thing was as a sociologist I got to put the methodologies I’ve learned into action, and to see how research could benefit the community,” Koeppel said.

 Key findings of the inventory are that most schools don’t have a formal philosophy or policy around food, but have informal underlying principles, such as that no child should go hungry. There are Red Cross nutrition programs in all schools in Thunder Bay, but there are inequities among schools in terms of delivery: most rely on volunteers, and some schools have greater numbers of helpers than others. Some schools are able to provide a granola bar and a fruit, while other schools serve hot breakfasts and even lunches. Some schools have initiatives like community gardens, cooking programs, and Indigenous traditional food teachings, while others do not. Disparities in resources contribute to these differences. The results of the survey were launched in a report in May of 2019, which can be found at

 Currently, the Working Group is helping school boards put the recommendations that came out of the inventory into action. Some of these recommendations are that schools develop food philosophies with their students, and that food programs be expanded. Dietician interns working with the Red Cross – a member of the School Foods Working Group – are developing tool kits to help teachers and principals create school food programs not just focused on nutrition, but also on the social and cultural context of eating.


“Around the world parents struggle to provide a healthy lunch their kids will eat or to provide a lunch at all. Food is about connection and relationships, but can also work to set individuals apart from one another and maintain difference. We want to use food and food policy to bring people together,” Parker said.

School Food Environments