Yellowstone looks local in finding food to serve

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YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK, Wyo. (AP) - When David Fales sat down for a hamburger at the Lake Yellowstone Hotel last spring, he told no one who he was.

He sat alone in the long, well-lit restaurant hall overlooking Yellowstone Lake. He wore his signature cowboy hat and boots. He ordered the Wyoming beef burger cooked medium and waited.

It was the first time Fales, who owns a Cody-based company that grinds and packages beef, would eat one of his own burgers in a restaurant.

A waiter set the hamburger paired with thick french fries in front of Fales, who snapped a photo with his iPhone before he wrapped his hands around the sandwich and took a bite.

“It was perfect,” Fales said.

Yellowstone National Park wants to work with more producers like Fales to put plenty of local food on menus across the park. Its goal? To make 50 percent of its food purchases from within 500 miles of the park or from a certified organic provider by 2016.

It’s a target that pits profits against philosophy, as Xanterra, the park’s largest concessionaire, strives to support local growers while keeping prices low in the nation’s first national park.

Today, about 34 percent of the park’s food is local or organic, said Dylan Hoffman, director of sustainability for Xanterra.

“We could put a menu together with all local, sustainable food items,” Hoffman told the Casper Star-Tribune (http://bit.ly/1iChU8z). “But it would be very expensive.”

Keeping prices accessible for the public is a priority for the National Park Service, he said. Already, some gawk at the $12.95 price tag for the Wyoming beef burger, which comes exclusively from cows grown in Wyoming and is processed through Fales’ USDA-approved value-added beef plant in Cody.

Gunning to have half the park’s food be locally grown or organic and do so in the next two years is a realistic target, Hoffman said. That includes the food Xanterra buys to feed the roughly 3,000 park employees who mostly live on site during summers.

But the “little guy” in agriculture is often pricier and keeps less stock on hand than the massive grower, posing a challenge for Xanterra.

Fales, for instance, said he recently called off a deal to supply New York steaks to Yellowstone because he feared he would run out of supply for his bigger buyers, like Jackson Whole Grocer in Jackson.

Xanterra wanted to add several thousand 10-ounce cuts from Wyoming Gourmet Beef to its summer lineup, Fales said. Fales pulled out at the last minute.

“With the demand we have in Jackson Hole, I’m nervous we wouldn’t have enough,” he said.

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