Practice Blog

To share practice related stories, create connections and engage readers in the amazing diversity of dietitian experiences.

Say YES: Shaping my career in community nutrition as an RD to be

Erin Branco is a UBC Dietetics Student and Community Kitchen Coordinator for a Vancouver community program called Growing Eden. She received her BSc in Nutritional Science from UBC, and a diploma in Nutrition and Food Service Management, which led her to work in food service management at a local health facility. Erin has a passion for anything and everything food and in her spare time you can find her cooking up something tasty for her new husband, playing with her new kittens or running in the sunshine. Read her blog, check out her cookbook Growing Eden: the cookbook, email her at or follow her on Twitter.

My journey to becoming a Registered Dietitian has been filled with many learning opportunities to develop personally and professionally. As a prospective UBC dietetics student, I was constantly seeking opportunities to participate in nutrition or food related activities to build my application. Through volunteering in a therapeutic garden club and networking with the cofounders of the organizing body, I was introduced to the organization Farmers on 57th in Vancouver, BC, and was offered a position as the Outdoor Community Kitchen Coordinator in 2012 for their community program called, Growing Eden.
Growing Eden is partnered with the BC Coalition of People with Disabilities and is generously funded by United Way of the Lower Mainland. Growing Eden is dedicated to connecting community, sustainability and food through teaching families living on low income how to grow their own food and how to cook with it. Myself, along with two Horticultural Therapists, aim to increase participants’ self-sustainability and build community food security.
The primary goal of the community kitchen is to provide a community environment in which families increase their knowledge, skills and confidence in cooking nutritious meals at home. Myself, with the help of four volunteers provide a weekly, seasonally appropriate and nourishing meal while maintaining a weekly budget. Weekly lunches include at least three menu items to create a well balanced, nutritious and energy rich meal. Freshly harvested produce from the neighboring garden is incorporated into the lunches as much as possible, and menus are focused around seasonally available crops. Snacks are also provided every week while participants are participating in garden programming activities.
In my first season (the second year of the program), I was cooking outdoors with a barbeque and camping stove so I learned how to improvise in the Vancouver rain and with a dwindling propane supply. I developed and designed a volunteer handbook and logic model to effectively communicate important program information to volunteers and to align objectives of the community kitchen with Growing Eden’s long term goals. As I knew I couldn’t feed 38 people alone, I advertised volunteer postings, conducted interviews and recruited volunteers. At the end of the season, I created a 78-page cookbook with two dedicated volunteers to showcase our recipes, act as a culinary and nutritional resource for our participants and to be used as a fundraising item to help create a financially sustainable program.
As I begin my third season with the program, I have been reflecting on the valuable skills I have learned that have shaped my understanding of dietetics practice and community program involvement. I have had the opportunity to develop my skills in multiple areas including community nutrition and food service management. In building my reputation as a community kitchen coordinator, I have also had opportunities to give nutrition workshops to community groups, network with other community leaders and write a professional report for our generous funders, which are all very rewarding. In this role, and co-leading a developing program, there have been many challenges, and I have had the opportunity to strengthen my skills around management, problem solving, cooking and menu development. 
As a fourth year advanced placement student looking forward to internship, I am grateful that I was given the opportunity to work with a community program before I become a Registered Dietitian. Accepting the opportunity to use my nutrition education to benefit the community has had a profound effect on my professional development and I now have a greater ability to foster a deeper connection between the food we eat and where it comes from. The experience I gained has solidified my passion for public health, and I would love to continue my career in community nutrition, working with individuals and developing policies and communities around nutrition.
For those of you who would like to work in community nutrition, my advice would be to volunteer with community organizations that involve food and nutrition, network with community leaders and say yes to opportunities that will challenge you. I started with Farmers on 57th as a volunteer for Growing Eden and the therapeutic garden, and after a year of showing what skills I had to offer, the founders of the organization offered me a position. It was totally daunting to organize, but I said yes, worked hard, learned a ton, and I have loved working with the folks at Growing Eden ever since.
You will never know where an opportunity may lead you, but you will always know that you will learn and grow from it - so say yes

Editor's Note: As another addition to our series of Students posts, it continues to be inspiring to read what our future dietitians are doing in their communities.  What activities did you do as a student that helped shape your future career?

  1. What a great story Erin!! Congrats on getting what sounds like a dynamic and very rewarding position with Farmers on 57th. I began volunteering with the therapeutic gardening club this past March, and your name came up recently :) Your growth from this position is certainly inspirational!
  2. Amazing story and work! You are truly dedicated and inspiring. Happy to hear your efforts landed you a position. I share that - volunteer in order to gain experience to land the paid job. It all starts at not being afraid to get your hands dirty for just the experience!
  3. Good for you!!!
    One opened door leads to many opportunities. Working with food in community is rewarding, you learn a lot, apply what you know, network with people, and develop our skills.

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