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Halifax bakery trains workers for the pastry shop

Stone Hearth runs social enterprise for people with employment barriers

5 min read
caption Maysoun (l) and Anna (r) prepare dough for baking at Stone Hearth Bakery's skills training program in Halifax.
Matthew Bambrick

Canada’s minimum wage increase kicks in on April 1.

Workers in federally regulated private sectors such as banks, telecommunications, postal and courier services will earn $16.65 per hour, up from $15.55, to keep pace with inflation.

But not everyone has the ability to secure or maintain a job.

So a commercial bakery in Halifax is teaching people with physical, social or mental barriers how to be an employee and make some dough.

“It’s all individual, as it depends on what that person needs,” Stone Hearth Bakery manager Scott Butler told The Signal from his facility in west-end Halifax.

“For some people it can be just teaching them how to show up for work, how to take breaks and how to schedule their life around [it].”

caption The dough mixer must be cleaned every day.
Matthew Bambrick

The bakery’s skills training program operates out of Bayers Road Centre, where there’s a kosher-pareve bakery, confectionary kitchen and catering kitchen.

MetroWorks Employment Association, a local non-profit organization, owns and runs this ‘inclusive social enterprise’; its other projects include the Ampersand Cafe, Common Roots Urban Farm, Mobile Food Market and Dollar Lake Canteen.

At the bakery, applicants are referred by case workers and care coordinators from different community service organizations. 

Dozens of workers are brought on for one year.

They work five days a week, learning how a full-service bakery operates. They make European-style bagels, breads, and baked treats.

Tiffany Gildart is one of them.

“My experience working as a baker has been good so far,” said Gildart.

Most workers complete the program and move on, said Butler, but some choose to stay and work for the organization with their newly-acquired skills. 

caption Anna separates the dough in a pan.
Matthew Bambrick

“They learn different aspects such as scaling in the buckets, baking mixes, or just handling the dough on the table,” said Butler.

“They all go through different aspects of why they are here, but it’s all about learning to come in, learning how to make the product, and at what stage they need to do it.” 

caption The dough is rolled and placed in trays.
Matthew Bambrick

Stone Hearth has been helping people since 1982 who have trouble finding and keeping jobs due to mental health challenges, according to a news release.

The bakery received a $172,000 grant from Ottawa through the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency’s innovative communities fund back in January.

caption Maysoun places a tray rack in the oven.
Matthew Bambrick

“The old equipment like the proofer was breaking down weekly and the oven didn’t work all that well, and then one day the firebox burnt out,” said Butler. With funding, they could buy “better, newer equipment that allowed us to double our capacity.” 

They bought new commercial ovens, a proofer and a range hood to replace aging equipment in the main kitchen. The money was also used to upgrade Stone Hearth’s fire suppression system and install a higher capacity gas line.

caption Scott Butler, the manager at Stone Hearth Bakery, checks on Maysoun’s progress with the oven.
Matthew Bambrick

Butler said the grant will also be useful in other areas. “It gives us a better chance to hire and train more people at the same time.” 

Stone Hearth “now supplies baked goods to 44 restaurants, five large institutional customers and 14 retailers in Nova Scotia,” according to the news release.

caption Fresh bread is taken out of the oven.
Matthew Bambrick
caption Anna takes the freshly-baked loaves of bread and slices them up.
Matthew Bambrick
caption Anna takes the sliced bread and weighs it before it’s bagged.
Matthew Bambrick
caption The packaged bread is stored before it’s shipped to dozens of clients.
Matthew Bambrick

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