Greenhouses plant the midvalley in the slow-food movement |

Greenhouses plant the midvalley in the slow-food movement

Scott Condon/The Aspen TimesObservers check out the interior of a Growing Dome greenhouse installed at Roaring Fork High School in Carbondale this summer.

Two state-of-the-art greenhouses will be completed next month in the midvalley, sure signs that the slow-food movement is on a fast track.

The TCI Lane Ranch development, between the Waldorf School and Blue Creek Ranch subdivision, is building a 36-by-60 foot greenhouse before work starts on 71 single-family homes and 18 duplexes. The greenhouse’s vegetable and green beds will eventually be worked by the homeowners once the subdivision is developed.

“They’ll be able to have fresh produce in their backyard year-round,” said Dave Marrs, an executive in developer Ace Lane’s firm.

The 2,160-square-foot greenhouse will be flanked on one side by outdoor gardens and a community center, said Lane’s land-use planning consultant, Jon Fredericks. That will be the “hub” of the development, he added.

The complex is expected to attract interest and spur sales despite the sluggish economy, Fredericks and Marrs said. More important, it will be embraced by people who support the concept of producing locally-grown food, or have an interest in trying it.

The greenhouse will be completed by the end of August. It features “aquaponics,” where water and fish waste from three 800-gallon tanks will be piped into gravel beds and filtered before returning to the tanks. Fish waste will be used as fertilizer where appropriate in the greenhouse.

The facility was designed by EcoSystems Design, a firm started by Basalt residents Michael Thompson and Jerome Osentowski to promote greenhouse development. It’s modeled after a greenhouse Osentowski built last year at his Central Rocky Mountain Permaculture Institute on the south side of Basalt Mountain.

A computerized system will take care of the TCI Lane Ranch greenhouse’s heating and cooling. When the temperature reaches 85 degrees, vents will open and fans will pull the warm air into a network of tubing buried beneath the cool soil. The cool air will circulate out openings.

The same system will suck in cool air and pump it out at 65 degrees during winter months, Osentowski said. A device burning wood pellets will be installed for any winter heating that is necessary, meaning the greenhouse will have virtually no carbon footprint, Marrs said.

Gutters and spouts will capture rain and snowmelt. The southern orientation will take advantage of the low-angle sun during winter to maximize solar harvesting. Any surface that doesn’t capture the sun is heavily insulated, with a rating of R-55 on the roof and R-35 on the walls, Thompson said.

Mueller Construction is building the greenhouse. The cost will be around $200,000.

The rest of the subdivision will be reviewed for final plat approval this summer or fall by Garfield County government. The 89 residences are clustered on one-quarter of the 100-acre property, Fredericks said. Home development will likely start in 18 to 24 months.

Osentowski and Thompson have been at the forefront of several efforts to get Roaring Fork Valley residents motivated to grow their own food. Osentowski teaches classes on everything from greenhouse design to permaculture, or using natural cycles and techniques to grow food organically. Both men have promoted rehabilitating fruit trees brought in by homesteaders in the midvalley.

Thompson said he believes the whole movement is catching on. Classes held by local nurseries on growing food are “maxed out,” he said. “As more interest becomes evident and people experience success outdoors, they realize they can have success indoors as well.”

The interest goes beyond homeowners. Roaring Fork High School in Carbondale had more than 60 students sign up last year for an agriculture education course taught by biology teacher Hadley Hentschel. That interest motivated Osentowski and Thompson to form a nonprofit organization that raised funds and secured grants to install a Growing Dome greenhouse outside the high school. The dome is 42 feet in diameter and 18 feet, 6 inches high. It’s made by Growing Spaces in Pagosa Springs.

Osentowski said the dome is a perfect example of the alternatives that exist to 2,100-square-foot greenhouses. Work to install the dome began in April. Osentowski grew annuals in his own greenhouse with the intent of planting them when the high school dome was completed. The annuals will be planted this weekend. Soon after classes resume late this summer, kids will be harvesting veggies and salad greens.

“It’s going to be an instant kind of thing,” Osentowski said. Kids will be picking peppers and harvesting fresh ingredients for pesto.

The dome is super efficient and encloses the most volume with the least skin, Thompson said. He envisions the dome hosting a 14-foot tall banana tree and towering papayas.

The dome’s design and 5/8-inch polycarbonate panel exterior allow it to deal with what nature delivers. “In terms of wind, in terms of snow, it’s the most strong,” Thompson said.

The heating and cooling will be based on the same fan system as in the TCI Lane Ranch greenhouse. Thompson said Carbondale-based Solar Energy International will help design a photovoltaic system that will offset the power needed to operate the fans, so the Growing Dome will have no carbon footprint.

The nonprofit raised $45,000 for the project. Community groups, such as the Carbondale Rotary, provided another $20,000 or so in in-kind service.

The Growing Dome will be used by the school for nine months of the year. Osentowski’s permaculture institute will use it during summers for classes.

A fourth state-of-the-art greenhouse in the Roaring Fork Valley – in addition to the two news ones and Osentowski’s – is at Yampa High School in Glenwood Springs.

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