While chances are that your local grocery store doesn’t have breadfruit in the produce aisle, that may soon change thanks to Patagonia Provisions, a division of the outdoor apparel company, which wants to help make the food system more sustainable and cut carbon emissions from the atmosphere. As it turns out, breadfruit can do both of those things.
“How do we look at our food chain and do things differently so that we can have an abundance of nutritious food in the future without harming the planet in the way that chemical agriculture is today?” says Patagonia Provisions head Birgit Cameron, who launched the division 2012.
Once a staple food in places like Hawaii, the breadfruit — which has a bread-like starchy consistency and smells like baked bread — has been gradually overshadowed by imported foods like rice, and because it has a relatively short shelf life, the fruit hasn’t been exported outside of the tropics.
Having discovered its amazing potential, Patagonia decided to bring breadfruit into the mainstream. Because breadfruit trees are grown in agroforests — farms that grow a diverse mix of trees — they help build healthy soil. Plus, one single tree has the potential to sequester up to 1.5 tons of CO2 during its lifetime.
To solve the short shelf life issue, Patagonia decided to turn the fruit into flour. It piloted the idea in Costa Rica, where it worked together with a female-owned farm cooperative to create a new supply chain that grows the fruit, dries, and mills it. “We had to set up the infrastructure to create shelf stability for it,” says Cameron.
On top of being incredibly nutritious and requiring less labor and resources to grow than rice or wheat, breadfruit trees are also very productive. One single tree can grow as much as 800 pounds of fruit every year. As a result, they can provide both more income for small farmers and a key source of local food.
Currently, Patagonia Provisions has a line of crackers made out of breadfruit flour and is researching other potential uses for the ingredient. Additionally, the company is helping breadfruit farms grow by supporting nonprofits like the Breadfruit Institute which trains farmers to use agroforestry methods to grow the crops in a sustainable way.