Mountain bikers love to talk about dirt. When someone asks me how the trails are, the first thing I usually respond with is the quality and the state of the soil.
“It’s pretty dusty right now.”
“The clay is gripping well.”
“Man, it’s all loam out there… it’s perfect.”
We even pay pretty close attention to the things living in the soil as they pass underneath our tires.
“The roots are really showing, and they’re pretty slick!”
Dirt is on the forefront of our minds because it is our primary connection to the earth, and the very thing which makes mountain biking different from road or track cycling, or even possible in the first place. And the majority of the time, a successful ride means you come back wearing or having consumed a bit of it.
But as is widely true throughout western culture, we are still detached and unaware in many ways of our soil and the things which we take from it. I know what kind of soil I like to ride; I know what kind of soil occurs in what kind of mountains, what kind of vegetation grows in that soil in those mountains, and even what kind of soil I like to taste when my front tire tosses a little in my mouth, but I will admit that I hardly know a thing about farming. My black thumb with even the hardest-to-kill succulents will attest to that. Even I know, however, that our food ought to grow in soil, where it takes root naturally, and that we should keep that soil healthy, rich with nutrients, and in a state such that it may be used by future generations of farmers and eaters.
So it seemed so natural to pack up our booth, head north to NEMBAfest in East Burke, and hook up mountain bikers with samples of healthy, energizing food in the form of Patagonia Provisions, and talk about the benefits of regenerative agriculture for both our diets and the environment. Despite our love for dirt, we spend a lot of time eating food that doesn’t come from it -- even that which gets stamped with ‘USDA Organic’ approval is often grown inside a fluorescent-lit, hydroponic warehouse, or processed beyond recognition. If you ask me, organic in a warehouse isn’t really organic; much the same way that mountain biking in a warehouse isn’t really mountain biking. Our ties to the earth and dependence upon it are what define these things, and make us who we are.
That’s why, when we chatted up bikers fresh off their daylong rides at Kingdom Trails, it wasn’t shocking that they were interested in the way that agriculture could affect the ground under their feet (or tires). It seemed that many people were aware of their impact on the environment, and were already doing a number of things on their own to lessen their footprint, but many folks’ eating habits seemed to have gone unquestioned. When we explained how sustainable, regenerative agriculture can keep down the environmental impact of farming, replenish soil, and even begin to counteract global climate change, eyebrows raised. It seems intuitive that food should be farmed where it grows naturally, but that is not the reality of the modern food industrial complex. Instead of introducing foreign and potentially invasive species to new locales, Patagonia Provisions are sourced from areas to which food sources are indigenous -- organic, non-GMO legumes and whole grains; bison raised and slaughtered humanely on the great plains of South Dakota; mangos processed with solar energy in Nicaragua. I think that mountain bikers recognize the similarity to trail building and riding in this ideology: though Moab’s slickrock and Scotland’s axle-deep loam are both world famous, they belong where they occur naturally, and if we try to bring them where they don’t belong, it will be extremely costly to the environment. (Plus, they will never be as good as the original).
It also carries far beyond Patagonia and our products; this kind of thinking can and should spill into everyday life. Eating from the earth on which you stand is the cleanest, least environmentally impactful, and most pleasurable way to consume food. Visiting the local farmers’ market is a great way to know what’s in-season, what’s growing in surplus, and what can make a great dinner while simultaneously supporting future meals. As much as I love smashing rocks and riding my bike downhill fast, I also like casually pedalling around Burlington’s Intervale Center, checking out various local and organic farms’ crops. I often get as excited about seeing big bunches of kale growing straight from the earth as I do about the quality of the soil underneath me. Just like an energy bar made with unpreserved, whole ingredients is better in the middle of a ride, the meal following is even better than usual when it’s fresh, seasonal, and you know from where it came.
We all know that we need to eat to live, and that eating healthily keeps us doing the things we love to do, whether that’s skiing, biking, climbing, or solving the environmental crisis. We should think the same way about the earth and the food which we raise in and on it. If we want the earth to keep doing what it loves to do for us, we have to feed it right and take good care of it. Sure, it’s a little more expensive, but it’s a small premium to pay to treat the planet, farms, farmers, and ourselves well. If we can do that, we can improve our world, our environment, our diets, and our experiences on and off trail. With dirt and soil being so integral to our lives as both eaters and mountain bikers, let’s invest ourselves in it.
Header: Carston Oliver digs his cornering knobs into some of the good stuff on Burke Mountain's Upper J-Bar.
Photo 1: Patchy clouds didn't rain too hard on the NEMBAfest parade (though it might more closely resemble a circus).
Video:. Patagonia Burlington's warranty manager, Josh, explains what we were doing at NEMBAfest and why, while friends of the shop, Will and Taylor, show us how it's done on-trail.
Photo 2: With cooler temps and air on the damper side, a little warm food was welcomed by riders as they returned to the expo. Josh serves up some Black Bean Soup fresh from the camping stove.
Photo 3: Taylor dips deep into a very healthy berm while Will sets up high.