Peronto, M.1; Yerxa, K.2
1Extension Professor, University of Maine Cooperative Extension, ELLSWORTH, ME, 04605-9540
2Associate Extension Professor, EFNEP Coordinator, University of Maine Cooperative Extension, Orono, ME, 04609


To address food insecurity, Maine’s Master Gardener Volunteers grow and glean over 200,000 pounds of produce for food pantries and soup kitchens each year.  Making free produce available does not, however, guarantee that it will be used.  A 2013 survey of Maine food pantry managers indicated that many clients did not take fresh produce because they lacked knowledge and confidence regarding how to use it.  The objective of the Community Food Mentors program is to improve food self-sufficiency skills of food pantry users through peer-to-peer education. Community Food Mentors (CFMs) undergo 15 hours of training in nutrition, food safety, cooking and preserving fresh produce, and cultural sensitivity.  They then conduct weekly hands-on lessons in food pantries, helping clients learn simple ways to incorporate a variety of fresh vegetables into their family meals.  CFMs provide recipes, taste tests, and food safety/preservation fact sheets while distributing fresh produce grown by Master Gardener Volunteers.  In Hancock County, CFMs reach approximately 200 food pantry users per year.  After six years, data show that food pantry users made positive shifts in food selection behaviors and food resource management skills.  Food pantry managers have asked us to continue our programming since its inception in 2014, as their facilities have been transformed from simple food distribution sites to learning locations. Community Food Mentors have formed powerful bonds with food pantry clients.

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