Local food for locals is great. But what about for tourists too? Since working for the Storehouse in the Appalachian Mountain Club, I’ve been collecting a heavy portion of food data. The AMC spends over 1 million dollars on food per year. It’s spent primarily on big sellers like Sysco and PFG. We get a few truckloads per week from other smaller and more locally based companies like Native Maine. However, even Native Maine gets a lot of their produce from places as far away as Mexico and California. That’s a long way to go to get to the woods of northern New Hampshire.
Much of the discourse surrounding the local food movement is angled at the homeowner, the person who’s living and working in one area. It’s not geared toward people who are on vacation which is seen as a time for indulgence and getting away from the responsibilities of home. Unfortunately for us humans, even when we’re away from wherever we consider home, our actions still have implications and, ultimately, great impact. Sometimes the impact we have on the place we are traveling can be even greater than our impact while we are at home. These impacts are economic, environmental, and political.
The AMC high huts system is a good example. There are 8 huts stationed throughout the White Mountain National Forest, each providing accomodations for anywhere from 36-96 guests in their dorm-style bunkrooms. A one-night reservation for upwards of $100 in the summer includes access to composting toilets, the beautiful views, and a delicious dinner and breakfast cooked by the hut croo. The huts have been in the Whites since the early 1900s and there are tentative plans for building a ninth hut in the coming year. In short, these huts are a big deal in the Whites and they provide relatively easy access to the National Forest for even the most timid of outdoorsmen and women.
The huts get their food from Storehouse, the department I work in where all the Sysco and PFG trucks are delivering foreign food. Therefore, most of the food fueling the tourist’s treks to and from the huts is not sustainable in any way. As it has been explained to me, the Storehouse is on a tight budget which means we can’t afford to buy local food for the huts. So at least a good portion of the money tourism is generating for the region (at least that 1 million per year the storehouse spends on food) is getting sucked up by these huge outside food companies.
Why is this a problem? Simply put, the money is not going to the local farmers. Thankfully there are conversations in the AMC about increasing our purchases from local growers in the coming year. When delivering some food to one of the huts, I was approached by a farmer who lived next door to where we drop off the food. He had recently moved to the area and was hoping to expand his farm in the next year to be able to sell produce to the AMC. I encouraged him to talk to people in the organization with more power than I have! When telling my boss about the proposal, I got so excited I forgot to turn on the engine of the van I was driving.
Anyways, here’s to thinking more broadly about the hidden systems which dictate the ways we are able to consume food at home and in our travels.