The Land Institute is a nonprofit organization in Salina, Kansas, making breakthroughs on developing perennial crops to save top soil from being lost or poisoned from the rigours of modern agriculture. Meanwhile, Washington State's Bread Lab is working on diversified crop development in locally grown organic grains. Dan and Jill O'Brien's Cheyenne River Ranch in South Dakota runs on regenerative grazing, raising buffalo indigenous to the region that don't require as much maintenance as, and damage the land less, than conventional cattle. And then there's Lummi Island Wild, a small fishery that utilizes a modern take on old-school First Nations techniques to protect the environment for future generations of fish and people.
These are all small businesses and organizations that have been working on and researching more sustainable and responsible farming practices for decades. They're also the stars of Patagonia's latest short documentary called Unbroken Ground, which will be free to view online on August 1. The film is essentially a 25-minute ad for the brand's new food business, Patagonia Provisions.
While the message of environmental responsibility and sustainability isn't new for the brand, the first goal behind the film is to first introduce audiences to these businesses and organizations, and subsequently inspire fresh thinking around our food system. And second, it was to answer the question of why Patagonia is getting into food at all.
Director Chris Malloy, who has worked with Patagonia on past films such as The Fisherman's Son, 180 South, and Worn Wear, asked company founder Yvon Chouinard that exact question.
"My first question to Yvon was, what the hell are we doing getting into agriculture after 40 years of making jackets?" says Malloy.
Chouinard countered by saying the company has been involved with agriculture for decades, through its commitment to organic cotton and its role in building that industry. Now they want to help do the same thing for food.
"It's really about applying that model established with organic cotton to these food markets and hoping it sparks some meaningful change," says Malloy. "Oddly enough, that story isn't in the film because we chose to focus on making it less about Patagonia and more a celebration of what these innovative people are doing. I said going into it, that this is a beautiful 25-minute commercial, but I want to make it the least commercial as possible, and they let me do what I wanted to do."
"We want to tell the stories, through our products, of why and how consumers' choices matter; how wild-caught salmon helps the species replenish, how eating free-range helps restore the vanishing prairies and grassland, why products grown with regenerative practices could be the key to our climate crisis, and why non-GMO organics are better for the soil and our bodies," says Birgit Cameron, head of Patagonia Provisions. "This is why we made Unbroken Ground."
Even though it's coming from a brand, Malloy hopes viewers see it as less about selling a product, and more shining a spotlight on the work and words of the scientists, researchers, ranchers, and fishermen in the film.
"As branded content becomes more and more common, our audience is a pretty cerebral crowd, and my hope is that they get the point that Patagonia has something they want to introduce to the market. They watch the film and say, 'Fuck it, Patagonia spent a bunch of money on this and I really learned from and enjoyed it, nothing was shoved down my throat, and I'm okay with it,'" says Malloy. "We all cringe when we're watching something, and then, surprise, there's the product. It's actually maddening. As someone who's pretty cynical about that stuff, I really hope that folks see this and are okay with the amount of commercialism in it, considering the end goal."