Local food movement pioneer in Basalt shares fruits of success | AspenTimes.com

Local food movement pioneer in Basalt shares fruits of success

Scott Condon
The Aspen Times
The Central Rocky Mountain Permaculture Institute on Basalt Mountain uses greenhouses to grow food, including tropical fruit, year round.
Jerome Osentowski courtesy photo |

Basalt Mountain resident Jerome Osentowski has nurtured a reputation as a nationally renowned forest gardener through a lot of hard work, a little heartbreak and a lot of community support over the past 29 years.

Now he’s written a book to show how he found success as a practitioner of a gardening method known as permaculture and, more importantly, to share his knowledge of the system, which features diversity, resilience and stability of natural systems. The book is called “The Forest Garden Greenhouse: How to Design and Manage an Indoor Permaculture Oasis.” It features his creation of the Central Rocky Mountain Permaculture Institute on the sun-soaked, south-facing slopes of Basalt Mountain and his efforts to promote the local food movement.

When he purchased isolated land on Basalt Mountain, he had no intention of gardening on a large scale and no knowledge how to do so, he wrote in his book. He just wanted a cabin in the woods.

“At this point permaculture wasn’t a word I’d even heard of, and I hadn’t yet learned to read a landscape in the way I can now,” he wrote.

He struggled with hyperglycemia in the late 1970s. The health crisis was a wake-up call on learning how the food he ate affected his body. He made a “feeble” attempt at gardening in the rough ground around his cabin and at raising goats, chickens and rabbits. The efforts failed miserably, according to Osentowski, but he didn’t give up. He leased 2 acres of unused field near where the Basalt post office now sits and found 1 acre to be productive. He learned about gardening and picked up tips from others. A few years later, he decided to center the operation at his property and decided greenhouses were the way to go.

“I was off on what would be a 10-year experiment with market farming on about two-thirds of an acre on Basalt Mountain,” he wrote in his book. He studied permaculture, a phrase coined by Australians Bill Mollison and David Holmgren, and founded his own permaculture institute in 1986.

Osentowski has added greenhouses along with expertise over the years. He was frustrated at times over how long it took for the local food movement to catch on. He also suffered setbacks, such as an October 2007 fire that destroyed his original greenhouse. He rebuilt with a state-of-the-art structure that has enhanced his teaching and consulting. The new greenhouse, Phoenix, uses a “climate battery” design for near-net-zero heating and cooling.

The book gets into details on how to establish a forest garden greenhouse and how to grow once the structure is up. Osentowski said he is particularly proud of how the book provides case studies of greenhouses that have been built to provide a practical angle.

Osentowski is offering workshops Saturday and Sunday, and Nov. 12 and 13. Day one of each session covers the basics of forest gardening — design considerations, getting started and upkeep. Day two will teach how to grow food year-round, including tropical fruits.

The workshops can be taken together or separately. They are $300 for both days, $150 for one day. The tuition includes fees, course materials, camping and meals.

The book is being sold for $34.95.

Osentowski also will have a book signing Nov. 11 at 6:30 p.m. at the Third Street Center in Carbondale. Future book signings are being planned for Aspen and Woody Creek.

For more information on any of the events, call Osentowski at 970-927-4158 or email him at jerome@crmpi.org.