Total Health has called Eckville’s 51 Avenue home for the past three and a half years, but its story began much before its doors opened.
Born-and-raised Calgarian Darlene Blaney, 48, was first introduced to the lifestyle when she met her husband, Ron, over 25 years ago.
“When I met him he was a vegetarian and I thought he was crazy being a vegetarian,” said Darlene, who says she was presented with a choice: him or meat.
“I decided to try it and my life changed,” continued Darlene. “I felt totally different, my digestion was better and together we started to make some health changes in general.”
At the time Darlene was working as an ophthalmic technologist, but as she continued to learn about nutrition her passion to want to teach others about what she was learning grew.
She started teaching cooking classes in her home and helping people who came into her place of work with diabetic retinopathy with their diet and lifestyle to help them with their vision.
From there she was brought on to write a cookbook for a four week program called the Coronary Health Improvement Project (CHIP) which helped people reverse heart disease and diabetes on a plant based diet.
“As time went on I just wanted to learn more and I just kept thinking ‘people need to know this, like how come we don’t know this stuff?’” explained Darlene.
This led her to start taking classes and courses, eventually receiving her PhD in Nutrition.
The Blaney’s also had a cooking school and health food store in Calgary once upon a time.
The store was open for about seven years and they decided to close it because the retail aspect had taken over, which was fine because they had been trying to leave the big city for a number of years.
“We wanted to raise our boys in the country,” commented Darlene, mother of four boys., who moved here with her family 10 years ago.
Aside from being closer to nature, the smaller community and the boys wanting horses, Darlene and Ron came with the dream of opening their own lifestyle centre where people could go to learn how to cook, live and eat in a way to help them change their health to be able to reverse and prevent some diseases.
The would also like to make a part of the centre a senior lodge, where they kind implement the same type of diet and lifestyle.
The Blaney’s set up a foundation for their centre and bought a piece of property outside of Eckville for it, which is where they live now.
‘It got permitted and licensed to do it, but we just never got the funds to get it going and so my husband and I we just had the need to try to be able to educate and service people,” explained Darlene, who said they were living in the area for about seven years before the opening of Total Health.
The decision to open up shop in Eckville was easy.
Darlene and Rob checked out places like Red Deer and Sylvan Lake to be busier, but felt the need to be supportive of their local town and community.
“We would always come to Eckville, the post office, the library, this was our town and we loved it here,” said Darlene.
“You’re part of a community and it’s a great, great experience,” continued the nutritionist. “I would never consider going to a bigger city to do what I do, we just love it here.”
Since Total Health opened its doors three and a half years ago it has become a family affair.
Darlene and her husband Ron own the store together, which started out with Ron working in siding to help finance the store and keep it going.
Now Ron does the business and accounting side, as well as does most of the bulk bagging. Her four sons have all chipped in at one point.
Her youngest son, who is finishing up high school online, works the counter while Darlene is doing consultations in her office.
Every weekend during the summer months, the Blaney’s head out to B.C. to bring back fresh produce.
The produce is something Darlene never intended to sell at their store, but it has been a huge hit since their first summer.
“It’s a service to the community,” explained Darlene. “[There’s] a lot of seniors who can’t get to the farmer’s markets elsewhere or [some people] just want fresh produce.”
“We get tired, but my husband says just to see their smile is worth it.”
Darlene also teaches cooking classes out of the shop a few times a month.
Outside of teaching her community how to live a healthy lifestyle she does what she can to help bring people in to Eckville to support the local businesses.
A few years ago she revived the Christmas in Eckville initiative and last year she organized a community-wide charity garage sale.
“I just want to make a difference,” said Darlene.
The Blaney’s are happy with how Total Health is going and love the community they are in, but their dream of opening their lifestyle centre still lingers in the back of their minds.
“We have a foundation set up for that and I don’t know, we’re Christians, we pray about it and we believe when it’s meant to be it will happen.”