Farms Finest: Traditions celebrated at harvest festivals |

Farms Finest: Traditions celebrated at harvest festivals

Joni Keefe
Special to The Aspen Times

Executive Chef Mark Fischer whips up Guernsey cream with farm-to-table fans at Sustainable Settings' 2012 Harvest Festival.
Photo courtesy of Sustainable Settings |

September is when we begin to think about the last of the garden crops and autumn. This also is the time for community harvest festivals. Mark your calendar to be in Carbondale from 4 to 9 p.m. on Sept. 15, when Sustainable Settings will put on another one of its Harvest Festivals.

Historically at these fall events, the agriculture community honors a local farmer. In keeping with tradition, Glenn and Tony Austin will be the guests of honor at Sustainable Settings’ upcoming festival. The Austin family farm is at the edge the West Elk Mountains in Paonia. Since 1970, they have been sustainable-farming pioneers. Three generations of their family continue to work the family farm.

Glenn Austin grew up on an organic farm in northwest Tennessee. He graduated from Murray State University with a degree in agriculture education and continued on to the University of Kentucky, where he received a master’s in agriculture along with his teaching certificate.

After schooling, he worked for five years in field research with Monsanto, advising farmers on chemicals and nutrients. Yes, no mistakes here — I do mean Monsanto, the agricultural biotechnology company. In 1970, he moved to Paonia and returned to growing organic fruits and vegetables.

“We have the greatest opportunity ever in history to raise appreciation for sustainable, organic agriculture and fresh food. Local growing eliminates all the middlemen,” Austin said. “Accountability is coming back strong and being valued again as people increase their awareness.”

Since 1997, Sustainable Settings has planted seeds to educate people on how to return to a more sustainable lifestyle. This understanding helps to foster a respectful partnership with the community and the environment. Collaboration is key and has been the way of living with our past farming generations.

Brook LeVan, the director of Sustainable Settings, said, “It has been our message all along that collective and individual support for local agriculture builds the bedrock for a strong community. Over the last few decades the increasing agro-industrial big business has taken over our food system and slowly caused us to lose perspective.”

Those doing the cooking will include such local chefs as Mark Fischer, who has the Pullman, Phat Thai and Town; Chris Lanter, of Aspen’s Cache Cache; Jamie Theriot, of Smoke Modern BBQ in El Jebel; Will Nolan, of the Viceroy Snowmass; and Lee Liebmann will create fresh deserts. This cast of hometown food superstars will combine its talents for one amazing feast.

Jack Rabbit Hill, Peak Spirits and Aspen Brewing Co. will be pouring their specialties. Big B’s Delicious Orchards also will have organic refreshments. Entertainment will include bluegrass music plus Virginia reel and square dancing as well as children activities.

The Sustainable Settings staff knows how to plan for this celebration, beginning by inviting the chefs along on a garden tour to select ingredients. This “fresh pantry” is the secret for farm-to-table culinary magic.

“When we walk through the farm next week, we select what is ripe and ready,” Fischer said. “Fresh ingredients express themselves well. The less we force flavor the better the taste. For farm-to-table, the menu actually writes itself.”

LeVan also brings the chefs even closer to meal planning with the opportunity to participate in the abattoir process. As consumers, our connection to animal products must go behind the plastic-wrapped store package. It is a sacrifice of an animal that needs to be done respectfully and properly.

“Going back to the roots of the farm is very exciting,” Lanter said. “To actually pick out the livestock and select the garden produce is a chef’s dream come true. I buy from our areas farmers as often as they have availability.”

LeVan added, “Our efforts through the years, with our ranch dining events with up to 200 people, has helped educate many. Our flavors are powerful; it is one of our most effective means to bring people to our ranch. This engagement helps shift thinking and more become interested in knowing more about our educational programs.”

For more information on Sustainable Settings, visit or call 970-963-6107.

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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