The food you take on a backpacking or hiking journey can be more than just fuel for your feet: It can also offer a bit of comfort and rest while creating moments of fellowship on the trail.
When Martha Y Díaz fell in love with backpacking several years ago, she wanted the food she and her friends brought to camp to nourish them body and soul. “Food for me is love,” she says, remembering trips to parks and campsites that she enjoyed as a child, after her family immigrated to the United States from central Mexico.
Longing for familiar flavors and dreaming of diversifying the backcountry menu, Díaz founded the backpacking food company Itacate Foods. The venture helped her create a sense of belonging, empowerment and healing for herself and others in the outdoors.
“Itacate means food for a journey,” she says, explaining its origins from a Nahuatl term for the food you take along for a distance, or a parcel of food you might be given as you leave a gathering.
Building upon her knowledge of Latin foodways and the specific nutritional needs that hiking and backpacking demand, Díaz set out to learn everything she could about starting and running her own business. As part of the process, Díaz became a member of REI Co-op’s Path Ahead Ventures inaugural cohort with the three-month virtual Embark program, developed in collaboration with Founded Outdoors.
Now, her vision of bringing Latin flavors to the camp stove is becoming a reality: Itacate Foods is preparing to launch its first full-scale production this fall.
Embark is an acceleration program designed to provide community, guidance and seed money for new and aspiring entrepreneurs from Black, Indigenous, Latino/a/x, and Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities. While founders of color represent only around 1% of entrepreneurs in the outdoor industry today, visionaries like Díaz are ready to change that. Supporting innovative ideas like hers with mentorship, infrastructure, customer connections and capital investments is one way to ensure that, going forward, there will be wider representation in the outdoor industry.
The outdoors is for everyone: By creating space for founders of color to have the opportunity to learn, grow and network, REI Co-op believes that the outdoor industry can be for everyone, too.
As Díaz says, “Let me see how far I can take it without anybody stopping me.”