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Patagonia: For climbing Everest, diving the Great Barrier Reef, and saving the planet on a beer run


Yvon Chouinard, the short, bluff, fatalistic founder of Patagonia, the company renowned for its pricey parkas, fuzzy fleeces, and exhortations to buy fewer of them, sits in a cafeteria-style Chinese restaurant in Jackson, Wyo. He scratches a clam from its shell, forks it into his mouth, chews, checks the time. “Oh, we’re fine,” he says. Birgit Cameron, seated on his right, does her best to look reassured. A fairly recent addition to the Patagonia family, Cameron seems as eager to make a good impression this evening as Chouinard is indifferent to how he’s perceived. The two are expected in 10 minutes at the Center for the Arts in Jackson, where they’ll appear on stage together and introduce Unbroken Ground, a 26-minute film produced by Patagonia that highlights the suppliers of Patagonia Provisions, the three-year-old sister food company that Cameron heads. Depending on your level of cynicism, Unbroken Ground may strike you as a well-turned documentary about the ecologically enlightened suppliers behind the foods she sells, or perhaps as a slick marketing piece. Naturally, it’s both.

“It’s hard to get people fired up about how cotton is grown in Turkey,” Chouinard says, “but we’ve got to, because the way 99 percent of cotton is grown, it’s a disaster. And it’s the same with where most of our food comes from. So we use film, because a lot of these little guys we’re working with don’t have the resources to make a movie. We do.”

At 77, Chouinard long ago stepped back from Patagonia’s day-to-day operations, but he and his wife, Malinda (also present, but not to be quoted), remain the owners and stewards of the brand. They mostly split their time between here, where their home faces the Teton Range, and Ventura, Calif., where Patagonia’s headquarters and their children and grandkids are. Both published books in the last two months: Yvon, an updated edition of his memoir-cum-management treatise, Let My People Go Surfing; Malinda, with co-author Jennifer Ridgeway, Family Business: Innovative On-Site Child Care Since 1983, a monograph promoting kindergartens at corporate offices.

They’d explored selling food for years. The impulse wasn’t toward brand extension so much as applying to cuisine the things they’d learned from making the switch to organic cotton and torture-free goose down at Patagonia. Yvon, especially, always wanted to do something with tsampa, a roasted barley he’d found to be the perfect fuel on treks in Nepal and Tibet. But the food business didn’t get off the ground until their chief executive officer, Rose Marcario, recruited Cameron. The two established a startup in Sausalito, Calif., in 2012. A year later, smoked Alaskan salmon became Patagonia Provisions’ first product ($12 for a 6-ounce portion). Since then, it’s added freeze-dried tsampa soups ($6.50 each), fruit and nut bars (12 for $24), buffalo jerky ($10 for 2 ounces), and, in September, three low-sugar hot cereals ($6.50 per serving). Mostly, they’ve sold these online, at Patagonia’s stores, and at REI, the outdoor retailer, but they’ve begun working with independent natural foods stores, too.

While the line seems intended for hikers and campers—haute trail food—the products were selected, Cameron

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