Seeds planted to make Aspen’s Cozy Point Ranch a model for sustainable agriculture
Cozy Point Ranch is about to become a whole lot busier with sheep, chickens, fruit trees and farmers.
The showcase property at the entrance to Aspen and Snowmass Village is being prepped for a makeover by the Farm Collaborative, a nonprofit organization formerly known as Aspen TREE.
Aspen TREE had leased two-thirds of an acre at the ranch and educated people about sustainable agriculture for the past 10 years. The mission is staying the same but the effort is being ramped up multi-fold. The Farm Collaborative now has a long-term lease for 14 acres from the city of Aspen.
“We’re (striving to be) a model and direct help for small-scale farmers in the valley and beyond,” said Cooper Means, agricultural director.
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The Farm Collaborative will expand its agricultural operation in multiple ways:
• Plant nearly 500 fruit and nut tree rootstocks. The trees will eventually be transplanted in rows adjacent to Highway 82.
• Undertake alley cropping in the orchard. Crops will be planted in the alleys between trees. The combination will improve the soil and provide nutrients.
• Practice intensive rotational grazing. Sheep, and then chickens, will be moved frequently around various pastures on the property that the Farm Collaborative is leasing to prevent overgrazing and restore the land. Thirty sheep are scheduled to arrive at the ranch today. Between 700 and 1,000 chickens will reside in chicken tractors, a sort of mobile coop.
Other efforts are aimed at assisting the expanding small-farmer movement blossoming in the Roaring Fork Valley. In conjunction with the Pitkin County Open Space and Trails program, Farm Collaborative started a tool library. Participating farmers pay a fee to belong. That qualifies them to check out tools from the library that would be cost prohibitive for them to purchase on their own. The tools range from tractor implements such as manure spreaders to sets of hand tools that could be used on a volunteer day at farms, said Eden Vardy, executive director of the Farm Collaborative.
The organization is also planning a food hub where farmers can package their goods, keep them in cold storage and make them available for distribution when retail outlets need produce. Large food producers have wholesalers such as Cisco available to distribute their products to market. That doesn’t exist for small operations.
“That is what I saw as the biggest problem for small-scale farmers,” Means said.
The goal is to open the hub, known as the Farm Center, within two years.
The Farm Collaborative also envisions making incubation plots of land available for farmers who have know-how but need more ground. It’s a natural progression of the nonprofit’s education mission, Means said. Providing the incubation plots encourages people to get into farming for a career.
Other components that were at the center of Aspen TREE’s operation remain part of the Farm Collaborative campus. There is a food park that the public is always welcome to investigate. Onions, asparagus, apple trees and mint, among other plants, grow among paths. Interpretative displays inform visitors what they’re looking at. An existing greenhouse will be supplemented by rolling greenhouses that will be placed in pastures on the eastern side of the property.
The area that houses the rabbits, goats and other animals will be expanded.
The Farm Collaborative will continue Aspen TREE’s signature Earthkeepers education program for kids. A yurt will be built on the property that can be used for youth education by organizations that go through training.
The expansion isn’t cheap. The Farm Collaborative launched a $5 million capital campaign to achieve its goals. It has raised about 30 percent of the funds so far. Vardy and Means hope all the phases are implemented after five years.
However, they are thinking of the big picture. The establishment of the orchards is a long-term chore. Once the rootstock grows enough, they will be combined with grafts from heritage fruit trees from around the valley. Vardy said the old homestead ranches always had orchards.
“It’s like a token of a ranch in this valley,” he said.
The hardiest of those trees have survived and proven over time to be best suited to the valley’s climate, Means said.
The fruit and nut trees won’t produce for years, but that fits with Farm Collaborative’s big-picture view.
“It shows where our ideals are. We’re not doing this to make money next year,” Means said.
So after 10 years operating as Aspen TREE, why ramp up now? Vardy said the timing couldn’t be more appropriate.
“The effects of climate change are becoming more dire on a day-to-day basis,” he said.
Traditional agriculture has been a major contributor to production of greenhouse gases that lead to global warming. But when done “right,” farming can also be one of the “fixers,” he said. Sustainable farming and education have never been more important.
“We’ve got to get started with our youth now,” Vardy said.
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