Nonprofit hopes for a place at the market
A Pitkin County nonprofit organization that educates the public about local food production may have a spot in this summer’s Aspen Saturday Market.Sustainable Settings has been trying to gain admittance into the market for months, but has been rejected by the market’s group of farmers. At issue was the nonprofit’s eggs, sold under the label Beyond Organic.Farmers at the market felt the label was misleading, because the nonprofit’s product is not officially labeled organic under the specifications of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. So as part of a compromise, Sustainable Settings agreed to get rid of the Beyond Organic name, and the farmers agreed to hold a reconsideration vote to add the Carbondale farm to the Saturday mix.As of Sunday afternoon, 10 of the 21 members of the farmers market had voted to include the nonprofit, without a single negative vote. Peter Forte, president of the farmers market, said the members seem “very much in favor of having them [included].” He noted that it would only take one more affirmative vote for Sustainable Settings to be allowed in.
If the organization is allowed to sell its lamb, eggs and vegetables at the market this year, it would be a one-year trial, Forte said. Right now, the farmers at the market primarily come from Paonia, Hotchkiss and Palisade. Established in 2001, Sustainable Settings works to educate valley residents about re-establishing local farms and ranches. From its ranch along the Crystal River, the nonprofit has been able to sell eggs, turkeys, lamb and vegetables to customers in a 40-mile radius – “a horse’s ride away,” Le Van said – based on the principle of keeping operations local.Allowing a locally based farmer to sell at the Aspen Saturday Market may seem like a no-brainer, but the Beyond Organic label got in the way. Sustainable Settings President Brook Le Van said that not only is it expensive to get agriculture department approval as an official organic farmer, but being organic doesn’t necessarily mean your products are sustainable. That makes the government-approved label misleading in the first place, Le Van said.”Certified organic food can come from Chile or California,” he said. “Most of the food that hits our plates in this valley is from at least 1,500 miles away, except in the summer when you buy food at the farmers market. That’s a great vote for local, small-scale agriculture.”Forte acknowledged that there was some distrust about admitting a nonprofit into the market. The farmers group had worried that it would wind up competing with a booth that is not profit-oriented. After more research into the organization, Forte said he changed his mind about that.
“As it turns out, that’s a false issue because they don’t sell cheap,” he said. “We educated ourselves slowly but surely, and came around eventually.”Forte, who has a farm in Palisade, said some exclusive behavior is pretty typical in farmers markets.”Farmers markets welcome new people in when they start, but as they go along – and this will be our eighth year – they don’t let people in because they’ve filled all the niches,” he said. “Typically, they turn people away and that doesn’t look pretty.”The Aspen Saturday Market is a two-pronged event lasting throughout the summer and fall. Fare that is offered includes produce, meat, cheese and preserves, and a section of arts and crafts booths overseen by a separate group.
Forte said the farmers market has stability because it has kept many of its original farmers and already represents four large farms. He said when the group looks for new vendors, it typically seeks a vendor offering something not already being sold at the market.”We should have paid more attention to the fact that these guys [Sustainable Settings] are right here in Pitkin County – we only have one other person like that, Jennifer Craig in Woody Creek,” Forte said.Naomi Havlen’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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