Another kind of greenhouse effect

Joni Keefe
Special to The Aspen Times

Eden Vardy with his son Bija at Aspen Tree.
Joni Keefe/Farms Finest |

I love it when those hometown moments happen. Last Tuesday night, I was sitting in a room crowded with a mixed representation of the community. All ages squeezed themselves into the small room, including young families with children in tow. Some arrived hurriedly after a long day of work.

It was just after 5 p.m., and the setting was in conference room at 503 E. Main St. in Aspen. This was a meeting with Pitkin County Planning and Zoning to review more new construction plans.

The review was not about building a multimillion-dollar dream home. This was for the vision of the Aspen Tree Organization. Eden Vardy, the executive director, was presenting plans for a greenhouse for growing vegetables.

The first order of business was the presentation of a stack of letters from communities members. All were requesting approval. Vardy then gave a PowerPoint presentation on the location and purpose of the house. He explained the benefits this would offer.

“We want to provide our community a connection to the environment and our local foodshed,” he said. “This is for our children as well as adults. Food is tangible. People eat three times a day. Using food as the connection will bring people together, and that is how great things begin. Learning how to grow your own food is exciting, fun and positive. The energy required to source food hundreds of miles away is expensive in every way.

“We must show people how to become more locally sustainable.”

The proposed contractor of the greenhouse is Michael Thompson, of Eco Systems Inc., who explained how the geo-dome style is cost-effective to build and maintain. During the winter months, the design uses geothermal heat, which requires only a small amount of electricity to circulate air with fans.

The vote was 5-0, in favor. The Aspen Tree Organization and Cozy Point are off of Highway 82 at the western gateway of Aspen, where the legacies of pioneer ranching and sustainable farming are combined. This living example is shared with the community and, I hope, will continue on for future generations.

That night’s decision means more than the approval of a greenhouse — it shows that people are realizing how valuable good-quality food is. By having the right tools, such as a greenhouse, we can explore and learn how to create a more sustainable community.

In history, food supplies have represented one of the primary strengths or weaknesses of a region. We have allowed ourselves to become dependent on big industry to feed our families. How the food gets to us from hundreds of miles away comes at a great cost, energy-wise. Here are few more thoughts:

Consider if, during an extreme winter, Vail Pass was closed for a week. This is the main route that all of our groceries follow to get into our region. How long would our stores stay stocked if this happened?

Another thought is if we took a typical chain grocery store and removed all the food made or grown outside the United States and then removed all food remaining composed largely of chemicals, sugar, salt or fat, I am fairly sure it would leave us with nearly empty grocery shelves. By the way, did you see many fresh local products in there?

During the past 60 years, we have become quite the food generation. Creative marketing has us believing in happy cows and real fruit flavors. Because of all these conveniences and not cooking with fresh food, we have created a multitude of health problems. Thank you, Betty Crocker!

It all has added up, and the results are in plain view. We have a generation of health problems, and it is not getting better by making big drug companies profitable, as well. We are realizing that fresh, nutrient-dense food and exercise are the keys to health.

Knowledge is important, and when we have a chance to focus energy toward spreading food literacy, we should take note. Nothing could be more important than teaching our children in our own communities.

We have this chance with organizations like Aspen Tree. One greenhouse will not feed all of Aspen, but it will plant those seeds for learning.

Joni Keefe moved to the Roaring Fork Valley after a career in landscape design. She is passionate about local food and agriculture. For more information, her website is, or follow her on Twitter. Connect at


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