Food Mentoring at the Amherst Food Bank

I recently had the pleasure of joining one of our partner organizations with some food programming at the Amherst Food Bank. Once a month or so, staff from Maggie’s Place Family Resource Centre (, show up at the food bank with food samples and recipes to share with food bank users. The food samples sometimes showcase seasonal fruit and vegetables, but often they incorporate food items that are not moving well on the shelves of the food bank and plan a meal around that. According to Karen Leblanc, Program Coordinator at Maggie’s Place, samples might revolve around things like canned beans, or some other food items that folks don’t readily know how to cook with.

On my visit to the food bank on a food sampling day this week, lentils, canned mixed vegetables and flatbread were used for the demonstration. The demo took place during the afternoon drop-in hours at the bank, so earlier that morning Karen whipped up all the dishes that were to be made available that day, using (almost all) ingredients from the food bank shelves. She prepared a tasty lentil salad, and a pasta salad with canned mixed veggies. She mentioned that less common breads don’t move as well at the food bank, so she made some garlic fingers using flatbread, which were a hit, especially among some of the young men visiting the bank.

garlic fingers

Most food bank visitors were open to trying a taste and several took recipes to try to make the dish at home on their own. Sean, one of the food bank clients I spoke with, has tried Karen’s samples before and commented that she finds this a valuable service and the food quite yummy. She also mentioned that she may often try the recipes on her own at home.

Leblanc would love to see food bank users receive more help with learning how to prepare their own food, so they can become less reliant on canned and processed food to feed themselves and their families. She feels that cooking more basics would save families a lot of money and is so much healthier. One benefit she cited was that if you cook your own food, you know what’s in it and can have more control over the amounts of salt and sugar in the foods you eat. So many prepackaged sauces and foods are loaded with sugar and salt and not very healthy.

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Catherine, the summer student at the food bank (pictured below), says she enjoys working there and agrees the food sampling and recipes help food bank users to learn to try to prepare some of their own food and also how to stretch their food. She feels that the sampling program is a huge asset and wishes it could be available at every drop in!, which is three times a week.

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Volunteers at the food bank also love the food sampling days, as they feel that it empowers food bank clients and also helps to reduce food waste that might otherwise occur among the less desired food items at the bank. When asked what items have trouble moving, the most common response was canned beans, such as lentils and chickpeas.

The sampling program started about five or so years ago, as an offshoot of the Food Mentors Program, an initiative of Public Health. Leblanc wishes they had the staff resources to set up the food samples and recipes once per week vs. the current once per month, but staff time to devote is limited. In a program similar to that of the Food Mentors, the Our Food Project is working with Maggie’s Place and other community organizations to train a pool of local food champions, in order to help fill this gap that exists at the food bank and to increase the amount of overall food programming in Cumberland County. For inspiration, we are looking to the success of our neighbours in NB, who have managed to keep their Food Mentorship Programs thriving (

Maggie’s Place also uses the food sampling events as an opportunity to promote their other services, such as their prenatal program, as well as to help make community connections. For example, today, a teenage boy looking for a job was referred to the local employment agency for help with resume writing. Upcoming food skills workshops are also promoted.

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(Above:  Sarah Guthro and Karen Leblanc from Maggie’s Place)

Both Karen and Sarah are also founding Board member of the Cumberland Food Action Network (, a local non-profit dedicated to community food security and improving access to sustainable local food. As dynamic and passionate individuals, they are two of our local food heroes in Cumberland County and many thanks go out to them for their tireless efforts on behalf of those less fortunate members of our community. Kudos to Maggie’s Place as well, for their continued support of good food programming in the County.

Lentil Salad
2 (19 0z) cans of lentils
1 medium onion, diced
¼ cup of vegetable oil
3 Tbsp. vinegar
¼ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. pepper
1 tsp. mustard powder
1 tsp. sugar (optional)
1 red pepper, diced

Rinse and drain lentils. Place into a bowl and add the onion. To prepare dressing, combine oil, vinegar, salt, pepper, and mustard powder. Add dressing to lentil mixture and stir until well blended. Cover; chill 2 hours before serving. Serves 4.

Blog Written By: Su Morin, Ecology Action Centre, Community Food Coordinator – Cumberland.

Adventures in Local Food is your source for food news in Nova Scotia, from pickles to policy. It is a project organized by the Ecology Action Centre .
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