Greenhouse guy’s friends helping out |

Greenhouse guy’s friends helping out

Aspen Times file

BASALT ” Friends of permaculturist Jerome Osentowski have launched fundraising efforts to help him build a bigger and better greenhouse after Sunday’s fire destroyed part of his farm on Basalt Mountain.

Osentowski lost a 1,600-square-foot greenhouse ” dubbed Pele, after the Hawaiian goddess of fire, lightning, dance and volcanoes ” where he grew tropical and subtropical plants for nearly 20 years. The fire originated from a heating system that fired up for the first time this fall.

Osentowski was understandably distraught while assessing the damage Sunday. He was uncertain whether he would try to rebuild the greenhouse, which served as a model for his consulting business and sites for workshops on organic gardening.

By Tuesday, he was buoyed by the outpouring of support he received after people learned about the disastrous fire. He said it appears his insurance settlement will be more favorable than he first thought. He also received calls from about 30 builders and architects who volunteered to help.

More important, he changed his own outlook. “You take a situation like this, you dwell on it, it can kill you,” he said. Two other greenhouses and his residence survived the fire.

Osentowski’s usual feistiness and determination returned by Tuesday.

“It’s my place … and I want to build my greenhouse back,” he said with a laugh.

Friends such as Joanie Klar Bruce plan to help him achieve that goal.

“There’s just been so much community support, it makes him feel like he’s got family,” she said.

Klar Bruce has known Osentowski for 30 years, and studied his work in permaculture, a technique in which plants, animals, landscapes, structures and humans work together in sustainable systems. Osentowski established the nonprofit Central Rocky Mountain Permaculture Institute at his property on the sun-drenched, south-facing slopes of Basalt Mountain.

Klar Bruce said Osentowski is respected around the world for his work. He was ahead of his time, and the recognition is snowballing because of a greater concern about climate change and sustainable agriculture, she said.

“If Al Gore had Jerome, the carbon footprint would disappear overnight,” Klar Bruce said.

No specific fundraising events are planned yet, although a number are in the works, Klar Bruce said. She hopes that volunteers will eventually supply labor to reconstruct the greenhouse, like an old-fashioned barn raising.

Osentowski said his goal is to build a greenhouse that is about one-third larger than the old one and that employs state-of-the-art technology with his common-sense approach. It will be called Pele II.

The original Pele was pieced together largely from recycled materials that Osentowski scavenged. He figured he needs to raise at least $100,000 for Pele II, although cost estimates won’t be known until after design.

Gary Goodson, associate director of the Community Office for Resource Efficiency, said the organization has awarded grants in the past to Osentowski’s permaculture institute because it believes the work is farsighted. Using greenhouses on a household level to grow food will become more important as climate change becomes a larger issue, he predicted.

CORE is considering issuing the community a challenge grant, through which it would contribute donations based on how much the community raises, to assist in Osentowski’s rebuilding.

Meanwhile, people can make tax deductible donations to the Central Rocky Mountain Permaculture Institute, P.O. Box 631, Basalt, CO 81621.

“This valley has enough resources to help one of its unsung heroes,” Klar Bruce sad.

Scott Condon’s e-mail address is

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