This fall, a farmer near Durango, Colorado called up Jane and Louise Barden with an unusual offer. “I’ve got a field full of broccoli that’s too big to sell to my regular markets,” he told them. “Do you want it?”
“We were like, okay, I guess that’s going to be our day,” said Jane, laughing.
Jane and Louise spent the next 24 hours cleaning and dehydrating 200 pounds of broccoli for their new company, Farm to Summit, which makes dehydrated food from upcycled, locally-grown produce. Although the bonanza of broccoli was unexpected, it fit flawlessly into their business model: to create gourmet meals for bikepackers, backpackers, and other people who spend time in the backcountry while also reducing food waste and resource use.
Before Louise and Jane launched Farm to Summit in 2020, the farmer’s overgrown broccoli might have gotten tossed in a compost heap. Up to 35 percent of all produce grown in the United States gets thrown away before it even makes it to market, and not just on industrial farms. Even small-scale growers end up with literal tons of deformed carrots, hail-damaged greens and bruised peaches. Such imperfect produce is perfectly edible, but since customers at farmer’s markets and restaurants tend not to buy it, it’s often left on the vine to rot.
In arid places like Durango, this puts further strain on the region’s most precious resource—water—which is usually diverted from streams and rivers to grow crops. It also impacts farmers’ already-thin profit margins, and contributes to global warming—the methane produced by rotting food waste makes up 6 percent of greenhouse gas emissions globally. For all of these reasons and more, “upcycled” produce is suddenly popular—Food Network Magazine listed it as a top trend for 2021.
Farm to Summit may be the first company to bring this trend to the outdoor industry, making backcountry food that’s not only tasty but also sustainable. Jane and Louise also put all their products in compostable and recyclable packaging, and donate 2 percent of profits to nonprofits that fight food insecurity.
Giving small farmers a market for their unwanted produce isn’t Farm to Summit’s only goal. Louise, a field botanist, and Jane, who grew up on a farm, also want to offer backpackers a wider range of flavors. Although backcountry cuisine has come a long way in the last decade—the Maine-based company Good To-Go pioneered gourmet backpacking food and inspired numerous similar companies—none have yet capitalized on the flavors of the Southwest. Farm to Summit is filling that gap, with ingredients like green chiles and Anasazi beans, as well as options to spice up your backcountry cuisine without needing to cart a bottle of hot sauce around.
“No one else is really making meals spicy,” Louise said. “Our green chile mac & cheese has a bite to it. And a lot of our other meals have spice packets, so you can add as much or as little as you want. The Thai curry even has a packet of dehydrated sriracha.”
Other ingredients—like peanut-butter powder, egg noddles, and dehydrated coconut milk—make the food calorically dense and rich in protein, so they’re nutritional enough to power outdoor athletes. I brought some on a recent kayaking trip in Alaska, when gale-force winds forced me to turn back early and get a hotel. By the time I got to my room, the one pizza place in town was closed, so I pulled Farm to Summit’s Thai red curry from my dry bag and cooked it with water heated up in a microwave. It was as good as anything I would have gotten from the pizza restaurant, and so filling that I had leftovers for breakfast, along with Farm to Summit’s chile mocha, made with coffee, cacao, coconut milk, maple syrup, cinnamon and cayenne.
Enjoying Farm to Summit meals in the front country isn’t uncommon, said Louise. “Lots of people at the farmers market buy our food and eat it at home. Which is a huge compliment. It’s veggie loaded, there’s no crap in it, and it tastes good.”
“We eat it at home too,” Jane added. “Because we have to. A lot.”
Farm to Summit now ships anywhere in the country. Find them at www.farmtosummit.com.