When you think of northern Michigan food and beverage, things like whitefish, pasties and craft beer probably come to mind. Ackee? Not so much.
Yet, you can find the national fruit of Jamaica on the shelves at Doud’s Market on Mackinac Island during the primary travel season from April through October. Ditto for callaloo, a leafy green vegetable popular in the Caribbean, and Irish moss, a Jamaican drink featuring seaweed. Doud’s Market stocks a wide variety of Asian fare in season, too.
You may know that Mackinac Island attracts visitors from across the globe. Well, workers on Mackinac Island come from all over the world, too. The variety of international foods is just one way that Mackinac Island caters to foreign workers.
Foreign Guest Workers on Mackinac Island
Some of the foreign guest workers come to Mackinac Island for a few months through the J-1 visa program for students, while others come for the whole season through the H-2B program. In addition to Jamaica, Mackinac Island attracts many workers from elsewhere in the Caribbean as well as Europe and Asia. And workers come from more places every year, it seems.
Andrew Doud, the owner of Doud’s Market, knows from past experience that he needs to have about two dozen specific international items on hand. Beyond that, the store’s staff ask customers what else they should carry and then they order those items to accommodate the people working on Mackinac Island in a given season.
Doud’s Market orders many of the international food and beverage items from a company out of Chicago that specializes in wholesale food importing. The food gets shipped through a distributor to Mackinac Island, where it gets unloaded at the ferry dock and hauled by horse-drawn dray to Doud’s Market.
That way, customers can find not only northern Michigan staples such as pasties but also Jamaican jerk sauce, mackerel in tomato sauce and cock soup.
While Mackinac Island has about 500 year-round residents, it takes about 5,000 seasonal workers to support visiting tourists. When the local unemployment rate is low, it’s difficult to fill those jobs with local residents.
As a result, Mackinac Island relies on a large influx of foreign guest workers. In fact, foreign guest workers make up about 20% of the seasonal labor on Mackinac Island.