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'Popovers for Pigs' helps green up famous Acadia National Park restaurant

'Popovers for Pigs' is just one of the many environmental initiatives undertaken by Jordan Pond House, the only restaurant to operate inside Acadia National Park on the scenic seacoast of Maine.

By Cathryn J. PrinceCorrespondent / July 31, 2012

Les Harbur is the maintenance manager at the Jordan Pond House restaurant inside Acadia National Park on the Maine seacoast. He composts tons of leftover food from the restaurant, including lemon rinds, egg shells, coffee grounds, tea bags, and vegetables. The compost is used right on the property, including in the flower gardens.

Courtesy of Cathryn J. Prince

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Bar Harbor, Maine

At the Jordan Pond House, if a popover doesn’t make it from oven to table in 15 minutes, it’s toast.

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Each season two local pig farmers collect more than 20,000 pounds of uneaten popovers from the famed tea house to use as animal feed.

Known as “Popovers for Pigs” this program is just one example of the many environmental steps undertaken by the only restaurant to operate inside Acadia National Park on Mount Desert Island along the seacoast of Maine.

More than 2,000 people a day dine at the restaurant, whose lawn tables and chairs face Jordan Pond and the Bubble Mountains. Cadillac and Sargent Mountains rise on either side of the pond. The pristine scenery lends an "Alice in Wonderland"-like feel to the restaurant.

But in some ways the restaurant is under siege: More than 2 million people visit Acadia National Park each year (and the park is only a fraction of the size of, say, Yosemite National Park). In addition to the thousands who dine at the restaurant daily, many more avail themselves of the restrooms and water fountains there.

With so many pairs of feet walking through, the restaurant decided to act.

“Pigs do indeed like popovers. They prefer the butter and the jam, but they will eat them all the same,” says David Woodside, president of Acadia Corporation, which manages the more than 100-year-old Jordon Pond House. The privately owned and operated restaurant works with the park as a licensed concession.

Today the Jordon Pond House prides itself on its recycling efforts, which are the result of teamwork – from the wait staff who began the recycling efforts to the maintenance crew who pushed for composting.

“It is all really grass roots,” says Michael Daley, operations manager of the Jordan Pond House.

Each year the restaurant recycles more than 50,000 lbs. of cardboard, 8,000 lbs. of paper, 2,500 lbs. of plastic, and 2,500 lbs. of metal.

Every morning the wait staff peels lemons to make gallons of lemonade for thirsty hikers, cyclists, and other tourists. Boxes of rinds sit outside the kitchen, waiting to be ground.

When Les Harbur, the restaurant’s maintenance manager, saw the hundreds of pounds of lemon rinds being tossed daily, he decided to turn them into compost. Today Jordan Pond House composts approximately 30,000 lbs. of lemon rinds, egg shells (200,000 of them), coffee grounds, tea bags, vegetable trimmings, and garden waste each season. The compost is spread on the gardens and lawns.

The citrus in the compost acts as a natural pesticide, Mr. Daley says. All along the building black-eyed Susan’s, daylilies, and loosestrife reach toward the sun. If one looks closely one can spot crushed eggshells in the soil – and catch a whiff of lemon in the air.

“We have the best-smelling compost in the area,” Daley says.

Another example of the restaurant's efforts toward increased sustainability comes in the little porcelain containers of strawberry jam served with popovers. The Jordan Pond House buys the jam from an Amish family who live about 115 miles away in Smyrna, Maine. The family makes the jam, fills the containers, and delivers them to the island. In the kitchens the wait staff empties them, loads them in the dishwasher, and prepares them for their return trip to Smyrna.

In another nod to the restaurant’s roots, the Jordan Pond House features local seafood. The restaurant has joined a local fishermen's cooperative. Rather than importing frozen haddock, the menu features Atlantic whiting, Acadian redfish, and other local underutilized species.

Christopher J. Brown, one of two pig farmers who use the popovers, also runs a soup kitchen in Bar Harbor, Maine. Mr. Brown comes almost every afternoon to the loading dock just outside the kitchen. There he finds an enormous garbage pail nearly overflowing with golden brown popovers. With help Brown tips the pail into a plastic bag and heaves it onto his truck.

“The pigs fight for the popovers," he says. "They will peel and eat them to get to the insides.”

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