Farms Finest: Reflecting on 2013

Joni Keefe
Farms Finest
Avalanche Cheese owner Wendy Mitchell bottle-feeds one of their newborn kids this past spring. Mother Nature makes a "no days off" schedule for those in the agriculture business.
Ashley Davis Tilly/Special to The Aspen Times |

Similar to many year-end countdowns, here are a few reflections on the Farms Finest stories written during 2013.

Providing accounts of many hard-working folks involved with community gardens, ranches, co-ops, farmers’ markets and many others who openly have shared their passions with me, I feel they are true entrepreneurs who bravely are writing their own “how-to” book each day.

Mother Nature is their fickle partner, arriving with late planting seasons, rainy market days and early frosts. But she also brings newborn life in spring, and in the fall she provides those harvests to celebrate with our farm-to-table meals. Agriculture always has been an important way of life, and we must never forget our dependency on this.

One example was the article about Avalanche Cheese, which quietly creates its award-winning products. This rural Paonia farm raises and milks goats and then delivers milk over the steep McClure pass to Basalt. There, a team of cheese-making experts receives the fresh milk in a state-of-the-art facility, all located on an unassuming street. You will not find fancy-heeled marketing executives who have never walked through a goat barn or held a just born kid working here. This is a year-round food-artisan business where everyone on the team knows their product beginning to end, and customers can depend on product value.

We followed the journey of Eden Vardy and his relentless pursuit to make Aspen T.R.E.E.’s greenhouse become a reality, from the mid-August night when zoning approval was made in downtown Aspen, to their fifth anniversary being celebrated this fall with the greenhouse groundbreaking. Today it is no longer just a vision in Vardy’s mind but a completed Geodesic dome offering our community year-round food-growing lessons.

Speaking of growing, we explored the climate-battery technology that Jerome Osentowski uses in the CRIMPE greenhouses. There, perched at 7,200 feet in the rocky hills of Basalt, is living proof for any skeptic that in this extreme agriculture climate, even tropical fruit can be grown successfully. For 20 years this world-renowned example of permaculture has been growing. Who knew all this was up in those quiet Basalt hills?

Remember those wonderful farm-to-table events being provided this summer and fall by our neighbors at Rock Bottom Ranch and Sustainable Settings? In mid-August, we shared a potluck dinner at Rock Bottom Ranch with Joe Maxwell, the vice president of outreach and engagement for the Humane Society of the United States. Members of Meatless Monday and other guests learned about why the practices in concentrated animal food production harms our health, the environment and is morally wrong.

We unearthed the founder of the Aspen Saturday Market, Jack D’Orio, in Paonia. After 15 years, his Hillside Acres continues to deliver fresh produce to our area and the Aspen markets.

We learned about Wild Bear Bee Farms honey and their midnight bee rides from Snowmass to Debeque Canyon and the huge business of beehive leasing to California’s almond industry. Unfortunately we also learned how our food system is in peril, largely because of excessive chemical use causing bee populations to die.

These Sunday stories did not forget those White House turkeys or the near criminal marketing tactics of “greenwashing.”

Far from my usual agriculture writing was the late September day when I saw Patrick Schumacher riding his horse Dillon with a dog name Buford bobbing along on top of a backpack. It turned out that these three travelers recently made national headlines about “Boulder’s drunken cowboy.” This odd trio of nomads rode through the wrong town while heading to his brother’s Utah wedding. After a night in jail, and the critters put in the pound, they were reunited. The next day they rode off with charges to later appear in Boulder court for DUI. All had a good ending though, as a local lawyer, while reading The Aspen Times column, decided to investigate and, as a result, gave his services pro bono to this wandering cowboy. We are waiting for the verdict.

As we close 2013, be assured there is another year of stories coming about local food and questioning industrial food. Send me your thoughts and suggestions.

I will be letting the Farms Finest column rest during the month of January, but be assured February will start next year’s crop. Have a happy and healthy new year.

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, visit, or follow her on Twitter. Connect at