Patagonia’s Food Startup Fights Climate Change With Kernza

Patagonia is bringing its sustainability philosophy to beer. The company’s food division, Patagonia Provisions, in partnership with Hopworks Urban Brewery, announced the launch of Long Root Ale, a craft beer with a special ingredient that mitigates climate change.

The beer is the first commercial product to feature Kernza, a perennial grain that absorbs high levels of carbon, requires less water, and regenerates soil health. It’s described as the “holy grail” for agroecologists. Perennial crops grow back each year — unlike annual ones — and thus don’t require continual sowing and tilling that degrades soil over time. That uninterrupted, year-round growth builds strong, deep root systems that hold soil in place (preventing erosion) and soak up water and nutrients. Perennials require less than half the water annuals do. When prairies were replaced by annual crops like soybeans, wheat, and corn, vast amounts of carbon were released into the atmosphere. There’s hope that by increasing perennial crops, like Kernza, farmers can sequester carbon and reassert regenerative soil ecosystems.

This miracle grain was invented and trademarked by the Land Institute, an innovative agriculture research nonprofit based in Salina, Kansas. Behind the vision of its founder and sustainable agriculture pioneer Wes Jackson, the Land Institute has been the leading force behind transforming our food and agriculture system to one based on perennial crops. For forty years, Jackson and the Land Institute have studied how to develop a perennial polyculture. Expanding the demand for Kernza is one way to achieve that.

The focus now is on increasing awareness and adoption. Those efforts thus far have yielded moderate success. Kernza is grown on a handful of large farms and displayed on the menus of progressive restaurants, like San Francisco’s The Perennial, where they feature Kernza bread. Minneapolis’s Dumpling & Strand uses it to make noodles, tortillas, and cookies. To build a sustainable market, however, the Land Institute knew they needed to spur commercial demand.

Enter Patagonia Provisions. The food startup began in 2012 with a mission to to do for the food supply chain what its parent company did for outdoor apparel. Its product portfolio includes shelf-stable salmon, pasture-raised buffalo jerky, and tsampa, and the startup works closely with local producers to ensure those products are of high quality and sustainable-sourced. To help the Land Institute build a market for Kernza, Patagonia secured FDA approval for the grain as “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS), paving the way for commercial production. Next, the company contracted with the University of Minnesota to grow Kernza on 90 acres of the university’s land.

[Unbroken Ground, is a 25-minute documentary that illustrates Patagonia’s vision for a new food supply chain]

By incorporating Kernza into its supply chain, Patagonia is sending a signal to farmers that there’s an available market. It’s creating a wider touch point with consumers and hopefully enticing larger food manufacturers to embrace Kernza as an input. General Mills is reportedly testing the product. And, if Long Root Ale is successful, perhaps one of the large corporate brewers will follow suit.

For now, Long Root Ale will be available in select Whole Foods stores in California, Oregon, and Washington.

Originally published at on October 10, 2016.