Preparing healthy meals can be out of reach for many who live in low-income communities like Gilbert Park, a neighbourhood in the northwest part of Winnipeg.

Brandy Edwards said part of the problem in the area is that junk food is cheaper and easier to buy.

"I do eat healthy food but the price of food has gone up increasingly and when you're on a budget you need to find something that's convenient that fits your budget," said Edwards, who lives in the area.

A new community centre designed to make choosing better food easier opened Friday in the community - a first for western Canada.

The NorWest Co-op Community Food Centre is a place Edwards and others can learn to cook, grow food and be healthy for free

The goal, centre officials say, is to help make people who live here healthier.

"There's major chronic health conditions in this community so (it’s) our way of getting healthy food into people. Teaching them how to cook with healthy food and just getting them excited about making that change in their life," said Community Food Centre Director Kristina McMillan.

She said the centre offers a much-needed change because diabetes and hypertension rates are high in the area.

McMillan said in the last few years rates have increased by about 43 per cent , which is higher than the rest of the city.

Volunteer Sharon Tzuba lives right next door to the NorWest Co-op.

"I'm eating kale now. I never had kale before. It's amazing what you can do with kale. What I'm finding out from the chef is how to cook a lot of vegetables rather than just boil them," said Tzuba.

Along with cooking classes and community lunches, the Nor West Co-op offers access to diabetes screening, advocacy and a community garden with a pizza oven.

It took more than two years to get the co-op going and organizers are hoping the impact to the community will last a lifetime.

Funding for the NorWest Co-op Community Food Centre comes from all levels of government and private donations.