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Kickoff event scheduled Saturday for Grand Forks Blue Zones Project

The Grand Forks Blue Zones Project, which hopes to make Grand Forks not just a healthier city but a closer community, is hosting an event on Saturday, Jan. 21, at the Empire Arts Center from 3-5 p.m.

Nick Buettner
Nick Buettner speaks at a Blue Zones Project kickoff event in Oregon. (Photo provided by Blue Zones Project)
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GRAND FORKS — A new community-led health initiative in Grand Forks is set to launch this weekend with a kickoff ceremony on Saturday.

The Grand Forks Blue Zones Project, which hopes to make Grand Forks not just a healthier city but a closer community, is hosting an event from 3 to 5 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 21, at the Empire Arts Center. The event is sponsored by Altru Health System and the North Dakota Department of Health.

The Blue Zones Project originated in an initial expedition by brothers Dan and Nick Buettner, who are originally from Minnesota, to travel the world and find areas where people live the longest. These five “blue zones” were identified as Okinawa, Japan; Sardinia, Italy; Ikaria, Greece; Nicoya, Costa Rica, and Loma Linda, California. During their travels and according to their subsequent research, they found people in these areas lived longer because their environment encouraged healthier choices.

According to Nick Buettner, people in these areas walk and bike places, have lower choleric intake due to more plant-based diets, and have a strong sense of purpose because of how they come together as a community.

Since their trip around the world, the Buettners have wanted to make communities across the U.S., and now North Dakota, healthier. The Blue Zones Project was launched in Albert Lea, Minnesota, in 2009. One simple choice the project made was to ask city officials to make the city’s main street speed limit 15 mph. With this slower limit, residents began to walk instead of drive, bringing back foot traffic, which then led to an increase in retail businesses, the Herald previously reported. This boosted both the physical and economic health of the area. Before the Blue Zones Project, Albert Lea was low in state health rankings; as of 2021, the city’s overall well being score is 68.5, according to the city’s website.


Grand Forks will be the first city in North Dakota to host the Blue Zones Project. It includes a partnership with Altru Health System and the North Dakota Department of Health and Human Services. Grand Forks was selected after an assessment of the area deemed it fit to pilot the project.

The current focus is on the north end of town, though as the project moves forward there’s hope it will expand to the rest of Grand Forks.

“It really is community-led and community-driven,” according to Nicole Benson, the project’s community program manager. “I’m excited for the opportunity to be at the Empire Theater and really share all the exciting things that Blue Zones Project has brought to other communities and has already brought to Grand Forks and the work that we will be doing moving forward.”

The project’s team members were all hired locally, and the project itself invites everyone in the Grand Forks community to be a part of it. Nick Buettner hopes the kickoff event will encourage people to learn more about the project, understand it and get involved.

“Saturday, that’s our kickoff, (will allow) us now to widen the aperture, and to invite everybody in the community to be part of the project,” he said.

Josh Sipes was watching an in-flight movie when he became aware the flight crew were asking for help assisting a woman who was experiencing a medical problem.

The project has started off looking into five domains of health:

  • “Do you have a sense of purpose and are you living it out?
  • What’s your social health?
  • What’s your financial health?
  • How does your community impact your wellbeing?
  • What is your physical health?”

The project’s goal is to improve these five health areas. It hopes to make Grand Forks more walkable, make supermarkets more accessible, and increase the availability of plant-based options at restaurants.
Saturday’s event will start with a performance by the Grace Academy cheer team, followed by different activities, such as a live cooking demonstration of a healthy Blue Zones-inspired recipe. There will be food samples provided, the opportunity to meet organizations and community partners for the project.

Nick Buettner will also tell the story of the Blue Zones Project and how it got started, explaining the project’s vision and what it hopes to achieve for the Grand Forks community: to create a community “where the environment around you is supporting your wellbeing.”


He hopes this kickoff event will help attendees understand how they can be part of an initiative that “improves not only their health, but ideally the future generations of people.”

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