Climate change is daunting and, for many, it’s often perceived as too big an issue to impact on the personal and local levels. The conversation around climate change focuses on the fossil fuel industry, carbon footprints and rising sea levels, but the very real social and economic impacts of climate change on our energy systems, food systems and on our health resulting from extreme weather is being felt in communities everywhere. People in the Roaring Fork Valley and beyond are taking action and coming together to tackle the issue.
Climate change resiliency and how communities across the U.S. are taking action were the core discussion points among community members attending the recent screening of “Paris to Pittsburg,” [www.paristopittsburgh.com] at the Rocky Mountain Institute in Basalt. The film highlighted the exciting and innovative role that cities, businesses and citizens at the local level are taking to reverse climate change in the absence of national leadership. The power of local action is immense, and the Roaring Fork Valley is a leader in these efforts, inspiring knowledge, ideas and change.
Stalwart Valley institutions that are driving change include the Rocky Mountain Institute on energy (RMI), the Aspen Global Change Institute (AGCI) on earth-system science, the Roaring Fork Conservancy on water quality and quantity, the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies (ACES), which is building a community of capable environmental stewards, and the Central Rocky Mountain Permaculture Institute (CRMPI) on high-altitude forest gardening and near net-zero greenhouse design.
In addition to such well-known entities that are leading the charge, the Roaring Fork Valley is also home to local change-makers who are advancing the revolution in our food system, localizing our food economy and making agriculture more sustainable.
Eden Vardy is the founder of the Farm Collaborative, a network of farmers, teachers, students and community members committed to reconnecting people with their food. The organization operates a 15-acre community farm system that educates children, teachers and community members on sustainable land use, farming and food production.
“The way we have related to food has contributed to our existential crisis,” Vardy says. “Food is our fire, and the foundation of what binds us.”
Community education and outreach take place at the Farm Park at Cozy Point Ranch, just outside Basalt, which is used for educational programs for teachers and for schools from Aspen to Carbondale. The Farm Collaborative also offers kids the “Earth Keepers Day Camp,” originally founded by John Denver, to help grow future environmental stewards within the community.
Aside from education, the Collaborative supports local farmers with an incubation program connecting them to other resources, such as a tools library that provides access to lower-cost equipment rentals, loans through the “Two Forks Club” fund and through the purchase of bumper crops for its free Annual Farm to Table Community Meal. Vardy plans to expand the farmer incubation program, setting up a year-round farm stand, a root cellar for food storage and a community kitchen and garden.
“Thirty percent of CO2 emissions come from our food systems,” Vardy says. “We need to reverse, not reduce, our emissions.”
To accomplish this goal, he’s promoting “food sovereignty,” a concept that returns the power of production and consumption to the local level. In order to support local farmers and make organic produce and meats more accessible, Vardy argues that we also need to reduce the cost of housing, equipment and distribution. Vardy believes that advocacy can contribute to making local food consumption commonplace and as such he’s been nominated by Gov. Jared Polis to fill the commissioner’s seat for Production Agriculture on Colorado’s Parks and Wildlife Commission [awaiting Colorado Senate Confirmation]. If confirmed, he will use this state-wide platform to help preserve Colorado’s agricultural heritage and inspire young people to farm, reversing the decades-long trend that has seen local production diminish.
Vardy and his family will soon call Basalt home.
In celebration of Easter and Earth Day, the Farm Collaborative is organizing an egg hunt on Sunday, April 21 from 2-4:30 p.m. at 210 Juniper Hill Rd. Look for the red barn.
Two Roots Farm
Two Roots Farm grew out of a passion for farming and a concern for the massive contribution that our industrialized food systems make on climate change. Harper Kaufman and Christian La Bar are first-generation farmers rooted in the Mid-Valley.
“We see regenerative agriculture as a bright light that reduces greenhouse gas emissions and has the potential to sequester carbon and mitigate climate change,” Kaufman says. “The beautiful thing about plants is that they take carbon out of the atmosphere and put it back into the ground — all while building top soil, increasing fertility and growing healthy food.”
By selling locally, staying small, abandoning chemical inputs and minimizing mechanization, Kaufman and La Bar are reducing their farm’s carbon footprint while growing healthy food for the community. Because their livelihood is tied to “mother nature’s whims,” they and other farmers are deeply concerned about shifting weather patterns.
“We believe that change has to start locally and that small incremental changes can have large impacts,” Kaufman says. “We hope the way we run our CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program, for example, will have a positive ripple effect by encouraging our members to shift their habits.”
Becoming a member of Two Roots Farm means eating seasonal, organic, local produce that isn’t packaged with lots of paper or plastic like in the grocery stores. This year, Two Roots is expanding its farm by more than 50 percent in order to better serve its members.
Kaufman understands that there is plenty of work to be done to make organic produce more accessible.
“I believe, first and foremost, we need to encourage the next generation of farmers,” she says.
The average age of farmers in the U.S. is nearly 60 years old, and the number of farmers has declined steeply since the Industrial Revolution. In 1930, there were more than 30 million farmers in the U.S. Direct, on-farm employment fell to less than 2.6 million in 2017 and is trending lower, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Wild Mountain Seeds
Wild Mountain Seeds is a no-till farm operating with a generous land lease from the Sewell family on the Sunfire Ranch outside Carbondale. Through crop rotation, composting and cover cropping, the farm sequesters carbon in the soil while producing healthy natural food. The ranch aims to train new young farmers to grow food, conduct research and breed resilient plants that increase the availability of healthy, organic, carbon-sequestrating food.
The Ranch sells produce at the local farmers’ markets and to restaurants in the Roaring Fork Valley, dramatically reducing cost and emissions of greenhouse gases associated with transport.
“Trucking food from afar leaves a heavy carbon footprint.” Piscura says. “Our seed-breeding program yields plants that are more resistant to climate change and the extreme variability that is increasingly the norm. We’re breeding food crops for tough times.”
[You can buy their seeds online!]
Climate change and extreme weather are making agriculture difficult or impossible in some areas, and causing migration, health, and infrastructure issues that exacerbate current social and economic pressures. Growing natural and organic food for local consumption can significantly reduce agriculture’s carbon footprint and contribute to better health and nutrition.
“The higher cost of organic, local produce and meats reflects the cost of production for the farmers who make a very modest wage,” Piscura says. He argues, however, that “The higher price is worth paying, if you care for your health and the health of the earth.”
Piscura, like the Farm Collaborative’s Vardy, notes that the dearth in agricultural education and extension, storage, affordable housing and capital-intensive farm equipment hamper local farmers’ ability to expand production.
Fortunately, Wild Mountain Seeds found an ally in the Two Forks Club, which provided two zero-interest loans that it used to purchase essential equipment to grow operations.
Supporting young people who choose to farm is essential to making agriculture more sustainable and organic produce more accessible and affordable.
Skip’s Farm to Market
Skip’s Farm to Market grocery buys produce from local and regional farmers, providing them a year-around outlet for their produce and meat. The store is located on Midland Avenue in Basalt and is owned by Skip Doty, founder of Early Morning Orchard in Palisade. Skip opened the store in 2017 to sell fruits from his own organic orchard and fruits and vegetables produced by other small farms. Each year, Skip commits to buy produce from local producers, giving the farmers greater stability.
We are fortunate to live in an area where farmers work together and support each other. Most of the farmers mentioned work with one or more of the following organizations that bring organic, local produce into the hands of those who struggle to access it:
• LiveWell Colorado (livewellcolorado.org) provides low-income seniors with CSA shares in Two Roots.
• Lift-Up (liftup.org) and UpRoot Colorado (uprootcolorado.org) also connect low-income families with local farms that often donate food. These families benefit from donations from all of the farms mentioned in this article.
As these farms mature, they are increasing production in order to make locally grown, organic food more accessible in the Valley.
“Our farm stands on the shoulders of our supportive community, local government programs, and nonprofit food organizations,” Kaufman concludes. “The more support we receive, the more food we can grow.”
Community support for local, sustainable agriculture through a CSA membership, land leases and contributions, as well as creative financing from local government and the private sector, is imperative to help grow food that’s good for you and for the planet.
A CSA membership is the most cost effective way to procure locally-grown produce from farmers. Members buy a share of the harvest upfront, and receive produce from the harvest weekly. Get in fast, as some farm CSA may already be sold out for 2019, but you can plan for 2020!
To commemorate Earth Day 2019 on April 22, become a member of your local CSA or commit to buying local to support a healthier food system and community. Here’s a list to get you started:
- The Farm Collaborative thefarmcollaborative.org
- Two Roots Farm (CSA) tworootsfarm.com
- Wild Mountain Seeds wildmountainseeds.com
- Erin’s Acres (CSA) facebook.com/erinsacresfarm
- Sustainable Settings (CSA) sustainablesettings.org
- Rock Bottom Ranch aspennature.org
- Roaring Gardens (CSA) roaringgardens.com
- Merrill’s Family Farm (CSA) merrillsfamilyfarm.com