Farm to Summit takes imperfect produce and makes culinary delights for the backcountry
Farm to Summit is a small dehydrated foods company in Durango with a taste for adventure, and it’s about to expand operations by about five times its current productivity – while supporting local nonprofits along the way.
Jane and Louise Barden are preparing to open shop in a new location 2800 Main Ave., where they will have more space for processing, dehydrating and packaging meals to be shipped out across Colorado and, in some cases, over state lines.
The business was founded in 2020, but until now, the Bardens have been using a shared commercial kitchen and renting a dehydrator. Jane Barden said in current conditions they have had to juggle time between hauling produce or packaged meals with actual time in the kitchen – sometimes only amounting to two hours a day.
They currently have 30 to 35 wholesale customers, she said. Most of them are based in Colorado, but some are in other states, such as Minnesota.
They get their meals from local farms such as Fields to Plate, Beet Street, The Old Fort and Long Table Farm to name a few, she said.
With the new facility and new space comes the opportunity with a dedicated retail space where dehydrated meals can be picked up by locals in addition to art, merchandise and gear services provided by other locals who are partnering up with Farm to Summit, Barden said.
“It’s going to be somewhat of an adventure collective,” she said. “There are a few other companies around that don’t necessarily have a place to sell their goods or are just up and coming, or we just think they’re really cool and they’re not being sold anywhere else.”
So far, two vendors are lined up, Barden said. One is a seamstress who sews bike bags, frame bags, does gear repairs and makes rescue sleds. She is planning to take up shop in the retail space. Another is Hannah Wilson of Hannah Wilson Art; she is a painter who creates mountainscapes and mapscapes.
“Anything adventure-esque is going to go in there,” Barden said. “Those are the two lined up, but we’re looking to get a few more in. It’ll be a really cool hangout (where you can) grab something cool for your adventure and go. ”
Reducing waste and making recycling more accessible
The Bardens set out to reduce organic waste and make recycling a little easier for people who love exploring the great outdoors, Jane Barden said.
A big component of biking, hiking and mountaineering is the concept of “leave no trace,” she said. But there’s still a broken link in the greater food system when people who are respectful of the great outdoors by packing up their trash get home only to throw it away when it could be recycled.
“People go out, they’re super diligent about not leaving their trash out, but when they get home they still have a pack full of garbage,” she said. “So it’s like, well, it’s not getting left out there (in nature) but it’s still polluting.”
Farm to Summit addresses that broken link by packaging all its meals in recyclable, “eco-friendly” plastic, she said.
“Because almost all the big companies are using Tetra Pak, which is super sturdy but really hard to recycle,” she said, “you have to actually ship it to a specific place to get it recycled, so I don’t know how many people are actually that proactive in doing that. ”
Farm to Summit also takes an environmentally conscious approach to its food supply. The produce used to create dehydrated meals comes from local farms and consists of unused, “imperfect” produce.
Imperfect produce includes fruits and vegetables that are perfectly nutritious and safe to eat but were rejected from the market or grocery stores because of physical “imperfections” such as bruises and scars. Sometimes, a vegetable might be oddly shaped compared with the pristine products featured in the produce aisle, Barden said.
“But realistically, that’s not how they always grow,” she said. “And it’s perishable.”
Barden said farmers can’t always sell so-called imperfect produce because American markets are strict about what they will accept because “everybody wants the perfect tomato.”
Many markets only accept certain sizes of vegetables, she said. If a cucumber is crooked, scarred or too large, a market might not want it. She said to think about what you skip over when shopping for your own produce – that’s almost imperfect.
She said she wants farmers to know that if they feel like they don’t have any market options because their crop grew too fast, ripened too quickly or is too imperfect for the grocery stores, Farm to Summit is a phone call away.
Two of Barden’s personal favorite dehydrated meals made at Farm to Summit are the tyrod curry and Thai peanut slaw.
“The tyrod curry, it’s a coconut red curry peanut butter base, so it’s super creamy, rich, basmati rice,” she said. “And then just loaded with veggies: bell pepper, carrot, kale, onion garlic. And then it has basil on top, too. So it’s super aromatic, very flavorful and very filling. Then we also put in a packet of dried sriracha. ”
Barden called herself a “spice fiend” because she enjoys spiciness in all her meals. But she realizes not everyone has a palate for spicy foods, so they store the sriracha sauce in its own packet so eaters can “choose their own adventure.” The sauce packet is also compostable, she said.
The Thai peanut slaw includes dried carrots and purple and green cabbage, she said. It’s topped with scallions, black sesame seeds, and a little bag of peanuts. The meal is salty, sweet, tangy and just a tad spicy.
“We marinade that in a Thai marinade beforehand and then dehydrate it, which is pretty cool,” she said.
Just add cold water and the meal is ready to consume, Barden said. Sugars in it give it a sweet taste, almost like candy.
“But that one is, to me, the most impressive meal because every time we reconstitute it, it holds its crunch,” she said. “You wouldn’t think something that was dehydrated and then rehydrated would still have that life to it. And it’s really got great flavor.
“For me, when I go backpacking or camping, especially for a few days, by the end my body is just craving veggies and something that I feel like is good for me. And so this is just our take on that, ”she said.
Farm to Summit gives 2% of its sales revenues to nonprofits that are fighting food insecurity, Barden said. In 2021, Farm to Summit donated to Good Food Collective. She said they are still deciding what nonprofit to donate to next.
She said it can be difficult to get food straight from farms to people who need assistance, and so she thinks her business can contribute to helping them out.