‘Unbroken Ground’: Patagonia Provisions Hails Champions of Regenerative Agriculture

unbroken ground - patagonia provisions

What happens when, for just a moment, we focus on the champions of our food world, rather than the villains? That’s what Patagonia Provisions and filmmaker Chris Malloy sought to discover with “Unbroken Ground”; the result is sure to be a rousing success.

In Malloy’s 25-minute film, he details the critical role food will play in solving the environmental crisis, exploring this theme through the work of four pioneers of regenerative agriculture, ranging from land to sea.

The film features Wes Jackson, founder of The Land Institute and developer of perennial-grain crops designed to save and regenerate soil; Dan and Jill O’Brien, of Cheyenne River Ranch, who are working at the forefront of restorative grazing by transitioning from cattle to native, free-roaming wild buffalo; Stephen Jones of The Bread Lab, developing diversity with locally grown organic grains; and Ian Kirouac, Keith Carpenter, and Riley Starks of Lummi Island Wild, who target specific fish species using reef-netting, a technique that has been used for thousands of years by the First Nations people of Lummi Island.

“Everybody in this film has been doing what they’re doing for decades,” says Malloy. “It’s a real commitment and it’s a way of life. The blood, sweat, and tears that you see with all of them is something that’s just super inspiring.”

This inspiration is something that Malloy clearly exhibits in the film, from his insightful interviews with the four pioneers and other experts to his in-depth visual exploration of their work. In a mere 25 minutes, the viewer gets a keen sense of what it is to raise buffalo on the plains of South Dakota or fish for salmon in the Pacific Northwest, and not only that; the viewer also begins to understand just why each of these endeavors is so important.

“Steve Jones says we can fight the big bad guys, the conventional farming and the GMO and Monsanto — we can do that, and that’s important, but at some point, it’s not fun anymore,” explains Malloy. “He said, in his life, that rather than fighting the system, he needed to go out and just change it. That’s what all of these folks are doing. You could talk about what’s wrong with Ag in the world, but they’re all a lot more excited to talk about what the hope is, out there.”

While each of these groups contributes in some way to Patagonia Provisions, the artistry in the film is such that the viewer doesn’t feel he’s being sold to.

“I sort of wrestled with that in the film,” Malloy explains, crediting Patagonia with the artistic license needed to render the film resolutely uncommercial. “I really set out to give the audience just an informative, inspiring experience.”

And he does. The individuals featured in the film are both inspired and inspiring, and by the end of the 25 minutes, the viewer is left with a palpable feeling of, “What next? What can I do to help?”

Despite the clear removal from Patagonia in the film, it’s hard not to equate the steps taken by these four distinct groups of people with what Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard sought to do, twenty years ago, with organic cotton. Even when it seemed no one was selling – or buying – organic cotton, Chouinard sought to fill this niche in the market, due to his own beliefs in the product; two decades later, he has succeeded.

“Revolutions start from the bottom,” Chouinard says in the film. “They never start from the top. At the bottom are these people who are willing to break the paradigm. Putting a small group together, all believing in the same thing, all going in the same direction… you can’t believe what we could accomplish with that.”

And it’s far from over, at least, as far as Malloy is concerned.

“I wanted this film to feel like the tip of the spear,” says Malloy. “I didn’t want at the end of the film for this to be like this big sight of relief, and ‘Oh, thank God, they fixed it.’ This isn’t a victory, this film, this is more of a — I don’t want to say battle cry, but I wanted to inspire people to start on a journey.”

A journey of discovery, a journey of education; with one or all of these individuals as a guide, anyone, from the accomplished activist to the uninitiated interested party can discover the merit of the work of these food revolutionaries and begin to uncover the steps that he or she can take to continue the fight.

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Image care of Patagonia Provisions

Emily Monaco

Emily Monaco is an American food and culture writer based in Paris. She loves uncovering the stories behind ingredients and exposing the face of our food system, so that consumers can make educated choices. Her work has been published in the Wall Street Journal, Vice Munchies, and Serious Eats.