Aspen Times Weekly: Carrying on at Cozy Point
Ryan Summerlin August 2, 2014
Feds conducts a survey every five years to portray the plight of farms and ranches. Here is what we know ...
There is a lot more interest today among consumers to help out local ranchers and farmers and in gaining the peace of mind of knowing where food comes from.
But has that movement done much to preserve farmland in Pitkin County? It’s a mixed bag in the latest U.S. Department of Agriculture Census of Agriculture. The latest reflects conditions in 2012.
The number of farms remained the same at 82 between 2007 and 2012, the survey results showed.
The number of acres on those farms increased slightly, to 32,094 acres in 2012 from 28,539 in 2007, according to the agriculture department.
That’s consistent with numbers reported in the Pitkin County Abstract of Assessment and Levies for 2013. It shows Pitkin County’s agriculture inventory includes 7,247 irrigated acres, 6,307 acres of meadows and 21,251 acres of grazing land.
The puzzling part of the agriculture department’s census involves cattle ranching. The census showed the number of cattle operations fell to 23 in 2012 from 34 in 2007. However, the inventory of cattle and calves allegedly increased over that period.
The survey shows there were 3,828 cattle and calves in Pitkin County operations in 2012 compared to 2,525 in 2007. That’s an increase of 51 percent.
Longtime Emma-area cattle rancher Rory Cerise said the reported increase seems suspect to him. He said he knows firsthand there were significantly more cattle operations with more cows and calves 40 years ago in Pitkin County than there are today.
The census shows there were 30 cattle ranches with 3,054 animals in 1969.
In reality, Cerise said, the operations that haven’t folded have decreased the size of their herds or stayed the same. He said he couldn’t think of any operations that increased, particularly in recent years.
The Census of Agriculture didn’t provide any insights on the alleged increase in the number of cattle and calves in Pitkin County. Statewide, the inventory dropped 4 percent in Colorado as a whole between 2007 and 2012, the census showed.
Cerise said he believes participation in the survey among farmers and ranchers is pretty high. Department of Agriculture officials are persistent about reminding ranchers to turn in their responses, he said. They mail the survey out and follow up with telephone calls if they aren’t sent back within a certain time.
His said a possible explanation for the increase in cattle and calve inventory is double reporting. A rancher might graze cattle on another property for a couple of months per year, he said. It’s possible both parties might claim the cattle on their surveys.
The Census of Agriculture breaks down data for every county in the country. It can be found at http://www.agcensus.usda.gov/Publications/2012/.
Cozy Point Ranch has been eye candy for decades.
Perched at the most important crossroads in the upper Roaring Fork Valley — at the intersection of Highway 82 and Brush Creek Road — it’s provided an iconic open space vista and a hint of the valley’s ranching heritage. Consciously or not, it’s an image that residents and visitors to Aspen and Snowmass Village have benefited from for years.
Monroe Summers dreams of transforming Cozy Point into more than just a pretty place. Summers is nearing the middle of his second, 10-year lease on the historic ranch, which is owned by the city of Aspen.
“A lot of us agree the ranch is a great place, but some of us feel it’s under-utilized,” he said.
He envisions making Cozy Point a hub for the locavore movement — providing space for a community garden where people can grow their own food; providing space for a commercial producer or organic foods; and always providing education to kids and adults about healthy, sustainable agriculture.
“I’m a big fan of the local food movement and the locavore movement,” Summers said. “I was never radical about it. I’m getting more like that as time goes on.”
City purchased ranch in 1993
Cozy Point has already made strides at becoming a bona fide food producer. Shortly after winning his first 10-year contract to manage the property, Summers purchased a couple of calves to fatten on the ranch and sell when they reached a couple of years old and 950 pounds. But necessity drove Summer’s actions. He wanted the cows so he could get rid of the hay that wasn’t suitable to feed to the horses.
But before he could even graze a couple of cows, he had work to do.
Cozy Point was one of the first ranches homesteaded in the upper Roaring Fork Valley, according to Summers’ research. The iconic red barn on the property dates back to the late 1880s or early 1890s, he said.
By the early 1990s, the owners were more interested in raising condos than cows. Officials from Aspen, Pitkin County and Snowmass Village huddled to come up with a plan to purchase the property. Only the city carried through. It made a controversial choice to buy Cozy Point for $3.2 million, even though it was 5 miles outside the town boundary at the time. City officials were concerned about preserving open space at the entrance to the area.
Three different operators had the management contract between 1994 and 2000 — all with a singular focus on running the equestrian facilities. (They remain a major part of the operation.) There was no irrigation system for the pastures or lawns when Summers entered the picture in 2000. He’s added to the irrigation infrastructure over the last 14 years.
Making hay, and lots of it
Summers’ Cozy Point LLC leases about 90 acres of the 160-acre property from the city. About 50 acres is in pastures, where cows graze from late fall to mid-spring, and in hay pastures that are vital to the horse-boarding and cattle operations. To grow enough hay, Summers also leases 22 acres across Brush Creek Road from Pitkin County Open Space and Trails as well as private land in Woody Creek and along McLain Flats.
After the humble beginning with two steers in 2001, Cozy Point’s cowherd has grown to 30 mother cows. The special breed is a cross between a Australian Lowline and an Angus variety. They produce a smaller, more compact cow that doesn’t eat as much but produces good beef. The steers are sold almost exclusively to Felix Tornare’s Milagro Ranch in Missouri Heights. He provides beef to several high-end restaurants in the Roaring Fork Valley.
Cozy Point Ranch needs 500 tons of hay to make it through the winter without buying outside feed. In the 2012 drought, Summers had to scrape up $70,000 for emergency hay when his crops failed.
“You just have to eat your hat sometimes,” he said.
‘Gypsy nonprofit” given a home
Cozy Point went beyond producing beef four years ago when Summers provided the nonprofit Aspen T.R.E.E. with a home.
“We were a gypsy nonprofit,” said executive director Eden Vardy.
Summers said he was impressed by the goals of Vardy and program director Paul Huttenhower. He also realized launching a nonprofit was difficult. He leased them space at the ranch for $1 per year.
Aspen T.R.E.E. has a “community farmyard” that features a chicken coop where members help with chores in return for eggs. Last October, the organization constructed a geodesic greenhouse where supporters trade chores for a share of veggies and greens. The bounty is expanded during summers with large outdoor garden in the form of a “food forest” where each layer produces a crop. The organization aims to produce enough food to sell to the public.
Aspen T.R.E.E. boasts 80 chickens, 15 turkeys, three goats and two alpacas. But growing food and raising livestock is only part of the mission. The nonprofit wants to teach kids and adults about sustainable, whole systems agriculture. About 625 kids, from 4-year-olds to college interns, visit the compound at the center of Cozy Point each year.
Vardy and Huttenhower are proud of what they have accomplished at Aspen’s high elevation. “If we can do it at 8,000 feet, we can do it anywhere,” Vardy said.
They trying to spread the word and inspiration about their agricultural operation and hope that their replicable model is adopted elsewhere.
Visions for the future
From a classroom deck perched above Aspen T.R.E.E.’s farmyard, Summers gazes out over Cozy Point and outlines his next steps. He’s consulting with Colorado Parks and Wildlife on the location and type of wildlife fence that can be erected around a pie-shaped piece of ground where the community and commercial gardens will grow.
Cozy Point already has local government approvals to put up temporary, movable grow houses to extend the growing season for veggies and greens. A total of 8 acres, or about 7 more than Aspen T.R.E.E. now utilizes, could be devoted to food production, Summers said. Aspen T.R.E.E. will take more space. Land for a community garden will be carved out for anyone with the will to weed and the patience to grow.
Summers has also talked to Skip Doty, owner of Early Morning Orchard in Palisade, Colo., about using some of the land for a commercial operation. Food would be grown and sold at Cozy Point.
He is also working with Central Rocky Mountain Permaculture Institute on a plan to plant fruit trees that originated from grafts from historic trees around the midvalley.
Early Morning Orchard started operating a summer fruit and veggie stand at Cozy Point this summer, with produce from Palisade. Summers envisions an expanded stand that offers a variety of produce from the ranch as well as beef raised on home ground.
In his mind’s eye, he sees Cozy Point as a viable food producer. And, of course, the place will always provide eye candy — with cows grazing in green fields in April, horses circling the outdoor riding arenas carrying kids of all ages and a hay baler spitting out the winter feed.
“We’re keeping a tradition alive that provides that iconic view,” he said.