I recently booked a weekend stay at The Breakers to attend a Palm Beach wedding. My initial thought, ugh. Fancy people, fancy designer clothes, fancy everything, not really my scene. My wife, on the other hand, was ecstatic. Across the board, it was exactly her kind of fancy.
Nonetheless, I started to poke around the website because it's what one does when faced with the prospect of being a fish out of water. Then I came across a link to the Annual Report on Corporate Social Responsibility and thought, well, that sounds sort of progressive. As I turned pages, it was the section on 'local food use' that raised my eyebrows but the description lacked detail so I decided to dig deeper.
Upon arriving at the hotel, I made a few phone calls and ultimately met with Rick Hawkins, the Director of Materials Management. A more fitting title might be 'Pusher of Green Initiatives'. He leads the hotel's Green Team which is responsible for a whole host of initiatives aimed at making the hotel more sustainable with its water conservation, waste reduction and energy consumption. One of his most recent initiatives; replace all of the hotel's plastic water bottles with water filtration systems. A noble pursuit but what about this 'local food use'?
Rick was kind enough to walk me through the history of the hotel's food sourcing. He explained that the hotel's food revolution started in 2000 with a simple request of a small farm located in Boynton Beach, about 15 miles from the resort, "can you provide us with some tomatoes on a regular basis?" Obviously a tiny step but for a resort that followed the typical ask-your-distributor sourcing model, this request got the ball rolling. From Rick's perspective, it simply made common sense; why wouldn't the hotel substitute locally sourced flavorful tomatoes in place of the bland industrially grown tomatoes currently being served. Although this relationship thrived, the impact remained limited to what one small farm could produce.
And then in 2006, a mango changed everything. Rick's colleague, Anthony Sicignano, the Executive Chef of Restaurants (8 of them to be exact) expressed frustration at being able to pick a delicious mango from his neighbor's tree but serving mediocre quality mangoes to the hotel's guests. This frustration led to a concerted effort by Rick's team to actively seek out partnerships with multiple local producers, including becoming part of the Florida Small Farms Conference to foster direct connections with many small farms. By 2013, the hotel sourced approximately 13% of its produce from local sources. As Florida's growing season is only about six months long, this a more impressive number than would appear on its face.
Rick's next target, finding locally sourced protein.
As I left the meeting with Rick, I realized that this place was exactly my kind of fancy as well. And for a brief moment, I was in complete agreement with my wife.