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Zone 5 Advisor’s Supply of Pulses to Food Bank has Grown to Include More Donations to More Charities (PCN Winter 2016) JAN 11 2016 | Consumers and Producers | Pulse Crop News

This article appeared in the Winter 2016 issue of Pulse Crop News.

An APG advisor continues to help food banks each year by connecting them with protein-rich pulses, which is especially welcome at a time when usage of Alberta food banks is up.

Gordon Tuck, who has grown pulses since 1990 on his Vegreville-area farm and served in many capacities on the APG provincial and Zone 5 boards, started supplying pulses from his harvest to the Strathcona Food Bank four years ago. The annual effort has grown to include the Leduc & District Food Bank and a supply of pulses from Alberta Agriculture and Forestry trials delivered by 20/20 Seed Labs Inc.

“The demand is huge,” Tuck said. “Our food bank system is really being taxed. You try to do what you can.”

He recalled that several years ago he took bulk peas into the Vegreville food bank and they couldn’t give them away because many people didn’t know how to cook them.

“Just giving pulses to people isn’t going to do much good,” he explained, adding that providing recipes showing how to use dried pulses helps food bank clients get comfortable cooking with a new ingredient.

The donations are very much appreciated by the clients of the Strathcona Food Bank, added that non-profit’s Board Chairman Judy Gray.

“We received a big bag of red lentils and a bag of green lentils (in November),” she said. “We divide them into freezer bags, label them and put them on the shelf. The clients who cook with them can take it, but we don’t automatically put it into hampers.”

Gray said that Strathcona Food Bank use has been up by 38 per cent every month since January 2015 over the previous year at the same time. The shelves were really empty last summer and Gray counts her facility as fortunate to benefit from increased donations as a result of Marjorie Bencz from Edmonton’s Food Bank doing interviews on the news about the need for donations due to increased food bank usage.

In March 2015,  852,137 people received food from a food bank in Canada, with more than one-third of those helped being children, stated Food Banks Canada on its website ( Hunger Count 2015 found that food bank use in March 2015 was 1.3 per cent higher than in the same period in 2014 and 26 per cent higher than in 2008, before the start of the global financial crisis.

Half of Canadian provinces experienced increases in food bank use in 2015. Alberta was hit the hardest due to a 10 per cent unemployment increase between March 2014 and 2015 due to the dropping price of oil. Three-quarters of food banks in Alberta reported an increase in use. Nationally, 54 per cent of food banks reported an increase in the number of people requesting food assistance. It has now been seven years since food bank use reached a low point of 675,735 individuals in March 2008. The need for food banks spiked drastically in 2009 and has hovered at record levels ever since.

Gray noted that an increasing number of food bank clients are cooking with pulses and seek out the recipe books to try new dishes. She said that she would be grateful for other pulse donations from producers who can spare it as well.

Tuck said that the annual pulse donation he organizes began when he grew a trial plot of lentils several years ago, cleaned them at his farm and inquired at the Strathcona Food Bank about whether they felt clients could put them to good use. He added that he sends along recipe books from the Alberta Pulse Growers to make sure that food bank clients know how to use them.

For the last few years, Tuck coordinated with Pulse Research Scientist Robyne Bowness of Alberta Agriculture and Forestry to supply lentils from her research project.

“I got a call from Gordon Tuck saying he was wondering what I was doing with all the lentil seed after we collected our data from it,” she recalled. “We just kept it and had between four and eight bags that I took up to 20/20 Seed Labs.”

The dry pulses are delivered to Sarah Foster, President of 20/20 Seed Labs Inc., who then arranges to deliver the pulses and recipes to the Strathcona Food Bank and Leduc & District Food Bank. In November, each food bank received 100 kg of red and green lentils.

“Gordon Tuck has really been an ambassador,” Foster said. “We made sure that people at the food bank understood the value of the peas and lentils, and how they could be incorporated into diets.”

The Leduc & District Food Bank incorporates pulses into recipes that are frozen and distributed to clients. A group of staff from 20/20 Seed Labs in Nisku often volunteer to help with the cooking when needed around the holidays as well.

“That experience was fantastic,” Foster said. “I think that everybody who went from here felt that they were really contributing.”

The company also offers free germinations in exchange for food bank donations at various meetings and events, as well as collecting for other charities. Many of its 30 staff already eat diets rich in pulses and want to spread the word about how economical and nutritious they are.

“Pulses are good value for money,” Foster added. “You can add pulses as a good source of healthy protein without the fat.”

Tuck encouraged his fellow pulse producers to help out food banks in their own area of the province.

“If there are opportunities, then it is really worth doing,” Tuck said. “What do a couple of bags mean to a farmer when they can help hungry people? International Year of Pulses is an ideal time to show more people how pulses are an inexpensive source of protein and other nutrients.”

Tuck also recently arranged a donation of canola oil from Bunge in Fort Saskatchewan to the Leduc and Strathcona food banks.