Aspen officials cozy up to new ag learning center at Cozy Point Ranch

Aspen City Council on Monday enthusiastically signed off on its support for a new 9,000-square-foot learning center at Cozy Point Ranch, which is owned by the municipal government.

The proposal is being brought forward by The Farm Collaborative, formerly known as Aspen Tree, and requires approval from Pitkin County through a land-use application.

The Farm Learning Center would be an educational facility within the same location of the current farm operations, which take place in nine makeshift structures that would be replaced with the new building, according to Mike Kraemer, a land-use planner with BendonAdams, the firm hired by The Farm Collaborative.

The new building will be owned by the city once it is completed, said Eden Vardy, executive director of The Farm Collaborative, which leases space at the ranch.

He said a capital campaign has generated $4 million of the projected $6 million project.

“We have more than enough to build the structure itself and we’re at the place to do the raising for the outfitting of the facility,” Vardy told council Monday during a work session. “The piece that has a little bit of urgency is to continue to move forward in our campaign and to get the pledges we have to get the approvals.

“Also from a financial climate we’ve got to start moving sooner than later to make sure that we can work when the economy is still well.”

All five council members blessed Vardy’s effort moving forward, with cautionary concerns of traffic and affordable housing impacts.

“I have to admit in that you have made me feel inadequate in my ability to express how impressed and inspired I am with the work you have done on the property,” said Councilman Ward Hauenstein told Vardy. “When I visited there, the ‘wow factor’ is just overwhelming. … I’m really supportive this, it’s a beautiful thing.”

Eden explained his vision going forward with sustainable agriculture and farming, along with the current scene on the property, like 700 fruit trees, 1,000 chickens and about 100 lambs.

“It’s fun to see it develop,” said Councilwoman Ann Mullins. “What you are proposing, it’s something that the city and the parks department can be really proud of.”

The learning center would include multiple classroom spaces, a welcome center, a demonstration and learning kitchen, a root cellar, and a second-floor office and pollinator garden roof.

There also would be equipment storage and a wash station, as well as outdoor classroom space.

“This building will essentially formalize the current agricultural learning activities occurring at Cozy Point today by bringing these activities under one roof,” Kraemer explained to council.

An estimated 3,000 square feet of existing buildings will be removed from the lease area and replaced with the learning center.

The Farm Collaborative currently hosts youth, community and school programs, as well as operates a farm park that engages the public about where food comes from, demonstrates options for carbon sequestration, and explores methods for solving global climate challenges through local food production, according to Kraemer.

The Farm Collaborative provides agricultural learning experiences at the property for school children from Aspen to Glenwood Springs throughout the year, with the busiest time being the summer and fall harvest.

The city has owned Cozy Point Ranch since 1994, with the original intent of preserving the agricultural heritage of the upper Roaring Fork Valley and as a possible location of additional affordable housing, according to Mike Tunte, landscape architect and construction manager with the city’s parks and open space.

In 2003, the property became a part of the city’s open space program and was put under a conservation easement with the Aspen Valley Land Trust.

The conservation easement is intended to protect the property from further development but does not prohibit existing agricultural, equestrian and other recreational uses, Tunte noted.

The property, located at Highway 82 and Brush Creek Road, consists of approximately 60 acres of irrigated hay meadows and pasture lands, 30 acres of equestrian facilities and 70 acres of rolling sagebrush shrub lands.

It also has an active archery range and has recently become the home of a four-season greenhouse that is being used for community-supported agriculture and education as a part of the Farm Collaborative program.

The Farm Collaborative and Cozy Point Ranch LLC, which operates the equestrian facilities, are the two leaseholders on the property.

The city’s open space and trails board in June gave the project unanimous support.