MH&T: An intermediary between food suppliers and guests

This week, the third week of my January Internship with Maine Huts & Trails (MH&T), I stepped outside the organization itself. I had the privilege of interviewing Jos Thalheimer of Riverweb Farm, Jarod Frigon of Carrabassett Coffee, and Deborah Chadbourne of Rasmussen Farm, all suppliers of food to MH&T.

My first interview of the week, with Jos, was valuable because he clarified the way I was viewing the relationship between food suppliers like himself, MH&T, and guests. I was referring to MH&T guests as the customers of food suppliers and of MH&T, and Jos gently corrected me by saying, “Don’t confuse my customer with MH&T’s customer. My customer is John [Winter, MH&T Hut Manager].” A successful exchange with a MH&T guest, a final consumer, is different than a successful exchange with an intermediary like MH&T, which relies only on the timely delivery of the desired quantity of clean, quality produce. Once that produce is out of the Jos’s hands, he can’t control what MH&T does with it, and it may not be productive for him to concern himself with its journey from the MH&T office to a table at a hut.

I think that in Jos’s place, I would have to focus on my buyer and ignore the final consumer of my product to avoid frustration. Jos has intermediary buyers additional to MH&T, and he feels that often, they don’t bother with what kind of fertilizer he’s using, if he’s certified organic, or how he’s paying his employees – they worry about the price of the product, when he can get it to them, and if they can call it local so that it has some added value to their customer. In the end, Jos doesn’t often know how intermediaries label his products. The label is up to them. That means he doesn’t necessarily get credit for being a producer, or for being a responsible producer.

Becoming aware of a lack of proper recognition to food producers made me eager to revisit the Carrabassett Coffee roastery in Kingfield, knowing that Carrabassett Coffee is kind enough to donate coffee to MH&T. Yes, donate. Jarod graciously showed me the coffee roasters and entertained my curiosity about the source of the beans for MH&T Backcountry Blend (Mexico, Peru, and Timor, if you want to know!), as well as the beans for Bad Dog Blend and Back Draft Roast, served in the Colby dining halls. Jarod shared that the reasons for Carrabassett Coffee’s support of MH&T are simple: the company’s founder was a good man who liked to do the right thing. He wanted to give MH&T a boost and he liked the idea of coming in from the cold for a cup of good coffee.

MH&T is positioned as a receiver of goods, information, and kindness from the community and that position gives the organization power and motivation to provide community support beyond money transfer. In thinking about how MH&T could give more to food suppliers, I considered MH&T’s potential as a marketing channel for people like Deborah of Rasmussen Farm. Deborah shared that the Western Maine Market, Franklin County’s Online Farmer’s Market, which she manages, is not as profitable each week as she knows it could be. She knows that she just needs to do more marketing. The idea of the ability to shop (whenever it’s convenient) for fresh, locally-produced food, which can be delivered at no cost to homes and workplaces along a route in Farmington, through Kingfield, to Strong, must appeal to more people than those already using it. However, as she manages the online market, updates the facebook page, writes a weekly newsletter, and makes the deliveries on top of producing and selling her own value-added products all winter, she doesn’t quite have time for more marketing. It’s really hard to run a market like the Western Maine Market. Could MH&T help her out by providing some information about the market on a poster, or in a booklet at the huts?

Maybe! But I must remember that MH&T needs to make money itself, and guests probably don’t want to be advertised to as part of their hut experience. Perhaps, instead of becoming a marketing channel, MH&T just needs to continue to be a responsible information user. As a student, I am encouraged to use information responsibly by citing my sources – both in-text and in a bibliography. The MH&T equivalent of an in-text citation is the diligent acknowledgement of ingredient sources as the hut staff set a meal on the table. The MH&T equivalent of a bibliography is the list of farmers and food producers supplying the huts, posted both on the MH&T website and on the walls of all the Maine Huts. If the list of the farmers and food producers – the bibliography – were annotated to outline the responsible practices or the hard-earned certifications of the food suppliers, the guests who want to source-check would be satisfied, and the food suppliers would get full credit for the goods they produce as well as the work they put into production.

– Lena Martin ’20

Hut staff interviews at Stratton Brook and Flagstaff Huts

Lena Martin here, continuing my look at the Maine Huts and Trails (MH&T) food system. Last week, I made day visits to Stratton Brook Hut and Flagstaff Hut to interview hut staff Hannah Marshall, Danielle Walezak, Dawn Berthelette, and Conor Burke. Among that group are cooks, educators, farmers, and a nutritionist: my food-related questions were received with very informed answers, and I learned a lot.

Hannah and Danielle express their gratitude for Crooked Face Creamery Ricotta (both Original and Smoked) during their interview.

Last week, I also read the essay “Place and Civic Culture: Re-thinking the Context for Local Agriculture” by Laura B. DeLind and Jim Bingen, which discusses the “civic agriculture” movement to resist the “disaffection and inequity” of the globalized food system and to encourage people to eat locally by championing farmers’ markets, CSAs, community kitchens, and U-pick operations. By my interpretation, the essay asserts that those championed enterprises are not necessarily more than platforms for market transactions which serve consumer convenience and, ultimately, farmers’ income. Those enterprises do not necessarily create communities that promote social equity, protect forests and soils, and respect economic, cultural, and political interests all at once. They do not necessarily create the “civic” atmosphere which we hope for. According to DeLind and Bingen (2008), the “civic agriculture” movement will not be truly “civic” until we realize the importance of “the concept of place – what it means, how it feels, [and] how it is expressed” and “understand and…practice ‘being’ in place.” (p. 130).

The essay made me thoughtful about place as I drove back and forth from Colby to Carrabassett Valley and as I skied back and forth from trailheads to huts. The landscapes I traveled could be perceived to be stark, spread-out and almost achromatic, while hidden in them are productive copses of trees, spaces shortened by snowmobile rides or brisk walks in the cold, and people with colorful vernacular.

One of the questions I asked the hut staff was whether they believe that there is pressure from the MH&T customer base (guests) to serve local food, or that that drive comes solely from the one or multiple people inside the organization who created the MH&T mission to stimulate environmentally sensitive economic growth in western Maine and promote an environmental stewardship and conservation ethic. None of the hut staff that I interviewed reported having felt pressure from guests to serve local food. In general, the staff weren’t sure how much guests care about the sources of MH&T food, but one of Hannah’s comments on this topic caught my attention: “I think that [guests] appreciate local [food], but the [guests] who appreciate it most are [those] who are from this area.” I think that this comment captures an idea about locality versus place. If the locality of a food source – the geographic proximity of a source to, say, the MH&T office – was the concept of value to guests, those from away would be as excited about food from Riverweb Farm or Rasmussen Farm as those from nearby. If guests from nearby are more excited to hear the source of the beef, the carrots, or the garlic that Hannah sets on the table, perhaps it is because those guests can place that source in their maps of space and time: perhaps they know the troubles of the tiny town in which the farm is located, or the family who runs the farm shop.

MH&T can stimulate local economic growth and promote environmental stewardship on one level by continuing to support trustworthy businesses in the greater Kingfield area. To stimulate local economic growth and promote environmental stewardship on another level, though, could MH&T inspire all their guests to care about the sources of the food which they are served? How could this be done? Of course the answer is not to restrict outsiders – guests who cannot place MH&T food providers on the map, or who do not know the landscape well enough to see beyond the stark, spread-out, and achromatic – the support of people from away is incredibly important to western Maine. Besides, as DeLind and Bingen (2008) argue, “while…sense of place is personal, it is hardly insular.” (p. 137). Knowledge, cultures, and homes are meant to be shared.

The three Maine Huts that I have visited are cozy and beautiful, and I think of them as full of warmth, light, and good smells. DeLind and Bingen might say that becoming aware of each hut as a place which has meaning and instills feeling is important both on its own and in sparking the civic natures of MH&T guests. As the huts age, and more art is hung on the walls, and more music is blasted from the kitchen or shared by the fire, and as, over family-style dinner, more ideas are exchanged among farmers, business owners, regular Mainers, and those from away, the huts and everything connected to them could become more familiar and special. People who return to be in a hut – to be “in place” – could be community members, and “civic” community members, who take interest in the social, environmental, economic, cultural, and political implications of the MH&T food system.

Sunny Stratton Brook Hut.


DeLind, L. & Bingen, J. (2008). Place and Civic Culture: Re-thinking the Context for Local Agriculture. Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics, 21, 127-151.

Why local? An experience with a MH&T “food run” and a visit to Poplar Hut

My name is Lena Martin, and I am a Colby environmental policy major and art minor. This January, I am interning with Maine Huts & Trails (MH&T), working to answer the questions, “Why does MH&T make it a priority to source and serve as much local food as possible?” and “How can MH&T educate their community about the impact and importance of their commitment to local food?” This week, I went on a “food run” with Hut Manager John “Young Gun” Winter to restock Stratton Brook Hut and Poplar Hut, and spent an overnight at Poplar Hut with hut staff members Rose Morgan and Connor Phillips, and two kind guests.

Loading Allagash, Baxter Brewing, and Maine Root products for delivery to Stratton Brook and Poplar Huts.

The “food run” began by loading orders and purchases from Allagash, Baxter Brewing, Maine Root, Island Farm, Crooked Face Creamery, Carrabassett Coffee, Jordan’s Lumber, and Tranten’s family market into the MH&T van. I noticed that although John is on a tight schedule during food runs, tasked with loading products from several locations in Kingfield and delivering them to the backcountry within an afternoon, he doesn’t rush when he’s interacting with food producers. The food producers are community members, and he knows them, so there’s news to catch up on. There’s also advice to be given and received: at Carrabassett Coffee, a mid-pick-up discussion ensued about the ideal water to Carrabassett Coffee grounds ratio. Back in the van, I learned that farmers also give John guidance about when and how their vegetables should be used. The information sharing reminded me of the term, “co-producer”, coined by Slow Food, which is a global organization founded to prevent the disappearance of local food cultures and combat people’s dwindling interest in where their food comes from. The term “co-producer” refers to a consumer who takes interest in those who produce food, how they produce it, and the problems that they face in doing so. Co-producers not only purchase food, but seek information and advice to gain an understanding of what a healthier, tastier, and more responsible diet means in their region. I am glad to observe MH&T’s role as a co-producer, and hope that like other aware and informed co-producers, MH&T motivates farmers and food suppliers to safeguard their workers, their environment, and the quality of their products.

After all the supplies were loaded in the van, John and I intended to make our first delivery to Stratton Brook Hut using a snowmobile and a sled. We were in for an adventure: after uncovering the snowmobile and loading the sled, we discovered that the snowmobile’s suspension was blown out. We had a cold wait in the van, but were rescued by Operations Director Mike Spurrier, who came over the river and through the woods with a different snowmobile, taking over the Stratton Brook delivery. John and I moved onto Poplar Hut, and this time, we were successful in delivering supplies.

A load of supplies ready for delivery to Stratton Brook Hut.

At Poplar Hut, I was served a delicious dinner made by Rose, including Morrocan Shepard’s Pie, broccoli with spicy balsamic vinaigrette, and warm multigrain bread. Rose was able to tell the other guests and me which parts of the dishes were grown locally. Everyone exclaimed at how good the food was, and as we ate, I enjoyed discovering that the other guests and I knew people in common, as they and I are all southern Mainers.

In the morning, I got up as Connor was beginning to make breakfast to interview him about food. Connor gives a talk at Poplar Hut called “Food of the Future”, and I learned that he has always cared about local food because of his family connection to Michael David Winery in Lodi, California. Michael David Winery developed the Lodi Rules certification, which is a set of over 100 rules geared toward environmental, social, and economic sustainability, vetted by scientists, academics and environmental groups alike to become the most thorough set of sustainable standards in California. The MH&T commitment to local food is one reason that Connor is working as part of the hut staff. Another reason that Connor is working for MH&T is that he loves to cook, and I am pleased to report that his breakfast was just as good as Rose’s dinner.

Poplar Hut Master Rose, enjoying breakfast made by Connor, and engaging guests.

Obviously, food is a central part of our lives – we eat (ideally) three times each day, and have routines, likes and dislikes, and traditions surrounding eating – but sometimes, meals become rushed events amidst other tasks. This week allowed me to consider how much work goes into a single meal at a hut between food sourcing, food orders, food pick-ups, sled runs, carefully chosen recipes, and skillful and time-consuming cooking. It makes sense for guests to be informed about what they are eating, and for them to take the time to sit down together and enjoy the warmth and the tastes of what they are served. The dinner and breakfast I ate at Poplar Hut were the centerpieces of my stay. I skied out with plenty of food for thought, and I think the other guests did too.

The clear morning view from the Airport Trailhead.