Farm to Crag Builds Community & Unites Climbers with the Power of Good Food
Photo by Miya Tsudome
POW Athlete Alliance member and professional climber Kate Rutherford uses her sport as a way to get up close and personal with beautiful landscapes, rock features and mountains. While finding new routes in Africa, Iran and Alaska and spending large amounts of time in Patagonia’s Fitz Roy range, she’s also advocating for the landscapes and communities she’s visiting. Rutherford found that the best way she can make an impact is through connecting climbers and other outdoor enthusiasts to sustainable food systems through her non-profit Farm to Crag.
“Through Farm to Crag, I’m talking to climbers and all outdoor lovers about how powerful our eating habits are on our environment and climate change,” said Rutherford.
Farm to Crag helps climbers connect the dots between sport, community, climate and the food that they eat through an online map that shows sustainable farms, restaurants and markets across all recreation areas. The map is interactive and users can add to it if they see a local farm or locally sourcing market that isn’t already listed.
“We really feel that the farm to crag map is an offering to the outdoor and climbing community of how to go out there and engage with your food and make change in a fun, positive way,” said Rutherford.
While the map is the tool for climbers and outdoor recreationalists to find these sustainable food sources, through education, Farm to Crag also helps people understand the power of investing in local and sustainable food systems.
“We want to educate people on why regenerative agriculture is important, whether it’s the soil science aspect, the community economic impact it can have or whether it’s health and nutrition at the individual level,” said Rutherford. “We’re trying to bring that thread together on why all of those things are important to our outdoor communities.”
How Food Impacts Climate and Community
Farm to Crag is a way for people to take action on climate and develop relationships with the communities where they recreate through investing in local sustainable food systems.
“Our intentional eating habits can help preserve soil nutrients, and boost biodiversity on the agricultural land adjacent to wilderness, while also helping to keep watersheds clean and keep air pollution down,” said Rutherford. “In turn, that leads to really beautiful individual health, rural community health and environmental health through the basic concept of eating beautiful food together.”
From a climate perspective, how we cultivate our food plays a role on planetary health. It’s important to use agricultural methods that will rehabilitate and add to soil quality, rather than being extractive like the majority of the conventional agricultural industry is.
“The current buzzword is regenerative organic agriculture, which is what indigenous peoples have always practiced, and that method of agriculture really has the power to sequester carbon and store it in the soil,” said Rutherford. “When farming is done incorrectly, like a lot of conventional mono cropping is, it causes a lot of carbon to escape from the soil.”
From a community perspective, Rutherford says that our outdoor activities can be extractive, rather than about giving back to the community and the land we’re recreating on.
“We show up in these rural communities having already gone to Trader Joe’s or a Wholefoods in our city and then we go out camp all weekend, poop in the woods and ‘crush the brush’ causing erosion,” said Rutherford. “We leave an impact but don’t necessarily give anything back to the community or interact with anyone who lives in these communities. That’s not a reciprocal relationship.”
Farm to Crag is a solution to this issue where we, as outdoor enthusiasts, can go out and engage with these communities where we are climbing, running, biking or hiking in a positive way.
“We can help make businesses more viable, whether it’s a restaurant, bakery, farm or brewery by sourcing our food locally,” said Rutherford. “ It creates a mutual respect when we engage in conversation with the local community while also having a delicious meal. Nourishing local food is something the community can provide for us and our payment is the gratitude for how much effort it takes to grow good food and make it tasty.”
United in Yosemite
Farm to Crag puts on events around the country to help educate and get the word out on regenerative agriculture and sourcing food sustainably. It also helps build community amongst climbers and welcome in new ones who may have previously felt like they didn’t have a place in the climbing community.
“We’re bringing people together around the table to create a space that is welcoming to any stories, big ideas or issues that need to be solved,” said Rutherford. “This welcoming energy is a community piece that we didn’t set out to solve with Farm to Crag, but it’s become a really powerful piece of the organization.”
Most recently, Farm to Crag was invited to United in Yosemite, a climbing festival put on by Yosemite National Park and the American Alpine Club to help bring marginalized communities into the outdoor industry and make them feel welcomed. Farm to Crag was there to provide dinner for the 200 participants.
“Our role was to create a welcoming space for everyone at the table who maybe hasn’t always felt comfortable climbing in Yosemite,” said Rutherford. “It felt really cool to support from a food perspective and to take care of some of the nourishment so that the participants didn’t have to worry about that piece.”
For the event, Farm to Crag sourced all of its food from local farms and worked with Chef Matt Dillon, a regenerative organic farmer and long time farm to table restaurant owner. They harvested all the vegetables the day before the event in hopes to showcase the beautiful local flavors in the most powerful way.
“Our goal was to make people in awe of the abundance that local producers have to offer so that they seek it out in their adventures,” said Rutherford. “It’s really grounding to have time together with a beautiful meal, slow down a little bit to converse and enjoy everybody’s presence.”
It was important for Farm to Crag to be at this event because Rutherford recognizes that there is a lot of food scarcity in this world, which adds to the challenges of how to take good food to the mountains.
“I want to take away that food stress and offer abundant, beautiful engagement with the conversations food can bring to the climbing community,” said Rutherford.
Through these events, Farm to Crag is facilitating impactful conversations which may not happen otherwise. Many of which are about DEI and making more people feel welcomed into the climbing community.
“We’re setting the table for these conversations to happen. We’re talking about why folks may not feel welcomed into this community or ways we can break down that barrier by helping people get out on big climbs like El Cap for the first time,” said Rutherford.
During the event, Rutherford noticed a really supportive energy where people were genuinely glad to be around eachother and supportive of everyone’s different projects.
“It was interesting in contrast to other climbing events. The focus was on having a positive experience for each individual more than anything else,” said Rutherford. “There was a lot of hope and potential for things to change that came out of this event.”
How Farm to Crag Got its Start
Rutherford’s parents have organic gardens and she spent her childhood hunting and fishing in Alaska. She knew what fresh, beautiful food looked like from her upbringing, but when her climbing career took off and she began living on the road she realized how hard it was to source good food in the places she was visiting.
“I started wondering: How do I eat like a local wherever I am and be able to help others dive into that local food scene as well?” said Rutherford.
Rutherford began instilling this value into her own travels while climbing all over the world in remote communities. One of her favorite spots to visit while climbing in Patagonia’s Fitz Roy range was a restaurant called La Senyera, where they would always make her favorite salad. Over 10 years, and ascents of all the peaks in the Fitz Roy range, she developed relationships with the people who were providing her nourishment, and that became a pivotal moment for Rutherford.
“It was a huge honor to have these people who were feeding us and acknowledging us as climbers. I really galvanized the fact that we can’t be climbers without the folks who feed us and welcome us home from the mountains and make sure we’re nourished and safe,” said Rutherford “Our lives are so interconnected with the people who feed us and keep lights on when we go to the mountains.”
As a Patagonia Ambassador, Patagonia’s founder Yvon Choinuard also had a profound influence on Rutherford. While she was in the beginning stages of creating Farm to Crag, she joined Choinuard on a fishing trip. During that trip he told her that regenerative agriculture is the number one thing that climbers can do to save the planet, second to investing in women’s and girl’s education.
“He encouraged me to make sure regenerative agriculture is part of the conversation and to talk about its influence on biodiversity in our wild parks and wilderness,” said Rutherford. “There’s so much land and cultivation that it actually really influences the entire planet and the places we like to play.”
What’s Next for Farm to Crag and How You Can Get involved
United in Yosemite was just the start of big things to come for Farm to Crag. The organization has grown from just a map and one small weekend event to having at least five events this year, with the hopes of expanding to different regions every year to welcome more diverse communities into climbing while also expanding the conversation about regenerative food systems.
“While our main purpose is to support creating a more just food system, we also want to prioritize getting more black, brown, LGBTQ+ and other marginalized climbers out into the mountains, onto the farms and at the dinner table with us,” said Rutherford.
“This map is built by our community, for our community, so we encourage people to take that on and make sure their favorite location is on it so that we can help them prioritize soil and community health,” said Rutherford.
Farm to Crag will be hosting more events this year! Check out the calendar of events to see if they’re coming to a town near you.
“Coming to events and getting involved is really where the joyful learning happens,” said Rutherford. “The folks who attend these gatherings, like United in Yosemite, really take that into their lives and bring it back to their communities.”
Author: Stacie Sullivan
Stacie always knew she wanted to pursue a career in the ski industry from a young age, having first clicked into skis at the age of 4 and writing her 8th grade career project on being a professional skier. While her dreams of becoming a professional athlete didn’t quite pan out the way she planned at […]