Is it possible for Roaring Fork Valley to feed itself? Aspen TREE pursues goal | AspenTimes.com

Is it possible for Roaring Fork Valley to feed itself? Aspen TREE pursues goal

Aspen TREE is preparing a mountain of food for its 10th annual community feast Tuesday, but the nonprofit organization is working on a plan to dish up something even bigger in the future.

Aspen TREE was selected by the city of Aspen as the long-term agriculture and education leaseholder at Cozy Point Ranch at the intersection of Highway 82 and Brush Creek Road.

That will allow a vast expansion of its mission to promote local food sustainability, help farmers get started and educate young and old about the efforts.

"There's still work we could do to connect people to their farmers," said Eden Vardy, Aspen TREE's executive director.

“There’s still work we could do to connect people to their farmers.”

— Eden Vardy, Aspen TREE

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The expansion plan includes incubator space where young farmers have access to dirt and expertise. A tool library would provide the equipment valley farmers need but often go without because of the required capital investment.

Aspen TREE would boost its own food production by constructing mobile greenhouses and several animal structures. Vardy and agriculture director Cooper Means are drawing up plans for "alley cropping" where the spaces between fruit trees in an orchard are used to grow other crops.

A 3,000-square-foot Farm Center would house a farm store, a community commercial kitchen and an education center. The store would sell produce and other bounty grown or raised on-site. The kitchen could be used for everything from canning to farm-to-community dinners. The education center would help Aspen TREE extend the months when it showcases its operations to school kids.

The entire campus will be an agri-tourism destination where local residents and visitors will be invited to drop by and learn the nitty -gritty of food production.

"I'm most excited about having this farm-to-community education center right at the gateway to Aspen," Vardy said.

He and his team dream of building an operation that is as respected in its field as Rocky Mountain Institute is in energy efficiency.

"We want to be the RMI of local agriculture," he said.

It's not going to happen overnight. Aspen TREE has started a silent capital campaign and will soon begin public fundraising. More than $4 million must be raised. The expansion will be undertaken in phases as funds allow.

Vardy said Aspen TREE looks forward to developing the plan with the city of Aspen and in coordination with the existing equestrian operation at Cozy Point Ranch.

But first things first. Before pursuing the big dreams, Vardy is working nearly round the clock this weekend to pull off the 10th annual Farm to Table Free Community Meal.

Roughly 1,200 people will be fed in three seatings at the Hotel Jerome on Tuesday. Once again, the event is sold out. However, organizers still need volunteers to serve food and perform other chores. Volunteers enjoy a seating prior to the public event (email aspentreevolunteers@gmail.com to help).

This year's Community Meal marks a milestone.

Aspen TREE intends to purchase 75 percent of the ingredients from beginning farmers in the Roaring Fork Valley. That's a testament to the explosive growth in the local food movement.

"The first couple of years there was really nothing closer than Sustainable Settings," Vardy said, referring to the farm and education center 5 miles south of Carbondale. Sustainable Settings is celebrating its 20th anniversary.

Now there are at least six farmers operating between Aspen and Carbondale.

Vardy said the Community Meal has proven to be an effective way to bring together people from across the valley's socio-economic spectrum.

"I believe that happiness comes from connection," he said, "whether that's connection with other people, to the land or our food, and where it comes from."

scondon@aspentimes.com

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