Farms Finest: Where everything lives in harmony | AspenTimes.com

Farms Finest: Where everything lives in harmony

Joni Keefe
Special to The Aspen Times

Colorado Rocky Mountain Permaculture Institute founde, Jerome Osentowski picks fresh fruit in the forest garden.

Imagine having a garden that will produce food for generations and not just for a season. The agricultural methods of cultivating soil, planting and harvesting yearly have been the gold standard for a long time. This practice is now being questioned.

The continual use of soil will exhaust nutrients and other important elements if it is not managed well. Most often, applications of inorganic fertilizers and chemicals are repeatedly added, to replenish the soil, in order to keep producing (taking) from it.

We are rediscovering the lasting values of composting, vermiculture, beekeeping and other natural ways to work closely with nature and not against it.

Permaculture is a way of living and growing that is centuries old, and yet many people are not familiar with the word. This is changing as public interest grows and there is more media coverage.

On Feb. 13, The New York Times published an article written by Ann Raver titled "Their Trip to Bountiful."

The setting for the story was in the old industrial town of Holyoke, Mass. Raver richly describes how a barren city lot was transformed into a food-producing oasis over a 10-year period.

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"It became a place that could sustain about 160 kinds of edible plants, including paw paws, persimmons, Asian pears, gooseberries, strawberries, blueberries and rarities like Goumi (tiny berries with a sour cherry zing)," Raver wrote.

Over the past 20 years in the Roaring Fork Valley, another unique garden has thrived. At an elevation of 7,200 feet, in the arid red rocks on Basalt Mountain, an entire acre of special plants is flourishing — including some that usually are grown in tropical zones.

This is the home of the Central Rocky Mountain Permaculture Institute, and the planting is its site for food forest demonstration.

On the sloping mountainside, 150 varieties of plants flourish. Apples, papaya, bananas, plums, apricots, grapes and figs are living proof of what can be grown in this region using permaculture methods.

A short distance away, the contrasting view, of a barren, rocky landscape with scatterings of sage, cuts sharply against this green island. It provides adequate substantiation that if soil is built biologically rich, a garden can grow with tremendous results, even in these extreme conditions.

The word "permaculture" (once called permanent culture) is a way of living for all life, where everything in nature works in harmony together. This is not a new concept but actually one that began at the beginning of time with pieces of today's science and technology knowledge added in.

"Everything shares resources, whether it is the rainwater, housing, landscape or energy. We are all naturally connected in permaculture, and recycled products are used as much as is possible," said Jerome Osentowski, founder of the Central Rocky Mountain Permaculture Institute.

One secret ingredient for successful gardens in extreme growing locations is the institute's greenhouses, which use Osentowski's climate-battery technology. Ecosystems Designs Inc. is a joint venture with Osentowski and architect Michael Thompson, offering services to help design passive solar greenhouses with climate batteries. On Saturday, a fall greenhouse workshop will be offered by the institute.

Locally, not many know about this 20-year-old, climate-defying garden. On a worldwide level, this is well-known. Osentowski will attend the 11th International Permaculture Convergence in Cuba from Nov. 29 through Dec. 3. There, he will speak on climate change and how to mitigate its effects by using low-energy greenhouses installed with climate batteries.

And in February, the institute will host a permaculture certification course in Hawaii.

The institute's goals are to have gardens for community use and to keep this nonprofit organization living long into the future as a permaculture example. View the http://www.crimpi.org website. In video made with Eagle County Commissioner Jill Ryan and Osentowski, filmed during a recent afternoon, Ryan learns about permaculture by walking through the gardens with Osentowski while sampling various types of fruit. It can be found at http://vimeo.com/75421999.

For more information, contact Stephanie Syson, the institute's manager, at stephanie@crmpi.org

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 Farmsfinest.com, or follow her on Twitter. Connect at joni@farmsfinest.com.