Carbondale ranchers go ‘beyond organic’ |

Carbondale ranchers go ‘beyond organic’

John ColsonAspen, CO Colorado

CARBONDALE Brook LeVan is normally a pretty cheerful guy, but get the founder of Sustainable Settings talking about the prospects for the United States in the near future, and he becomes almost grim.LeVan, with his wife, Rose, operates Sustainable Settings on a small ranch just outside Carbondale, where he is engaged in a campaign to revive small-scale farming and community interdependence on a variety of levels.With his combination research center and demonstration project, he is raising “beyond organic” vegetables, fruits and livestock, selling the produce at area farmers markets and out of a small shed on the grounds of his ranch.And this weekend, Aug. 18-19, he will hold his annual Harvest Festival, featuring speakers on a variety of topics related to his work. On Aug. 19, there is to be a kind of organic hoe-down featuring live music, a feast directly from the Sustainable Settings fields and other area farms (prepared by some of the area’s premier chefs), and a tasting of organic wines from the Jack Rabbit Hill winery near Hotchkiss.The Saturday speaker series will feature talks by Sally Fallon, a natural-foods activist talking about “the overlooked benefits of raw dairy products made from milk from no-grain cows;” Jeffrey Smith, an expert in the advent of foods made from genetically modified organisms; Richard Manning, author of a book that deals with “the history of agriculture, politics and power;” and Will Winter, author of “The Holistic Veterinary Handbook” and co-founder of the American Holistic Veterinary Association, talking about how cows process food, and the benefits of eating and drinking seasonally.

In addition, LeVan will give a talk on, as a brochure puts it, “the consequences of our choices and history, and what we can do to build a durable future.” And Ken and Gail Kuhns of Peach Valley CSA in Silt will be honored as the local organic farmers of the year.In a recent interview, LeVan noted that Sustainable Settings turns 10 this year and that this is the fourth Harvest Festival.”We feel there’s a real sense of urgency,” he said of the need to abandon corporate agriculture and get back to the basics of eating foods raised locally rather than transported great distances.

“We’re looking at the collapse of a lot of systems that govern our lifestyles,” he declared. “Our national food security is incredibly fragile.”For example, he said, twice last year, blizzards shut down transportation systems on the Front Range, and, as a consequence, grocery store shelves in the Roaring Fork Valley went empty for a while.Another example, he said, was the food scare last year when contaminated spinach sickened consumers around the country. The spinach, LeVan said, was fertilized with cow manure that contained a strain of E. coli bacteria beyond the capacity of human immunoresponse systems. And that strain of bacteria, he maintained, was a product of corporate-scale livestock systems and the types of feed that cattle get in those systems.”It’s not just about taste,” he said of the growing market for organic, locally produced foods, “or even just about nutrient density. It’s about trust and food safety. I don’t think it’s a fad. I think people are scared, frightened about their food.”He said that among the things his research has shown is that small-scale farming is possible even in the Roaring Fork Valley, where a development boom has eaten up vast amounts of acreage and drastically reduced local agriculture.

Since the price of land is beyond the reach of most agriculturists, he said, it’s possible to strike deals with wealthy landowners to use some of their fallow land for food production, which in turns qualifies the landowner for tax breaks. In the case of landowners with fruit trees, harvesting the fruit can be seen as a free pruning service, he said.”There’s a lot of land and a lot of irrigation water in this valley that’s totally underutilized,” he continued, adding that on top of the crisis in food production and safety, there are indications that the world’s oil supply recently reached a peak, where supply was in a kind of balance with consumption.If true, he said, that means the primary source of energy to run corporate agribusinesses is going to dwindle.”We’ve got to move now,” he said, to begin making changes is how humanity produces and distributes food, and that is some of what the speakers on Saturday will address.

Tickets to the Aug. 18 speakers cost $20 for adults and $10 for students. (Children younger than 12 get in free.) The Harvest Benefit Dinner Dance on Aug. 19 costs $125 for adults (children younger than 12 get in free), and LeVan predicted last week that there might be a few tickets left Monday. For more information, call Sustainable Settings at 963-6107.John Colson’s e-mail address is