Taking a deeper look at food, energy and water | AspenTimes.com

Taking a deeper look at food, energy and water

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BASALT – Paul Andersen has earned a reputation in the Roaring Fork Valley for being a deep thinker and top essayist on environmental issues. Now, he’s trying to get midvalley residents more fully engaged in discussing some top issues of the day.

Andersen, a columnist at The Aspen Times, will lead a three-part conversation at the Basalt Regional Library that delves into food, energy and water – what he labels the “triumvirate of really critical issues in our region.”

“All these topics are important to me, so I project that they’re important to the whole community,” Andersen said. He was encouraged by Barbara Milnor, interim director of the library, to search for issues that would help the facility fulfill its role as a community focus point for the exchange of ideas.

All the sessions are free and open to the public.

The first discussion will be held from 5:30 to 7 p.m. Tuesday on “The Sustainability of Food.” Andersen will interview greenhouse architect Michael Thompson, of Basalt, and Brook LeVan, director of Sustainable Settings outside Carbondale. They will focus on the challenges and benefits of sustainable, reliable, local food production in the Roaring Fork Valley.

It won’t be a how-to discussion on better gardening or on how to start a compost pile. Instead, Andersen and the experts will probe why it’s important for the valley to grow its own food and how much potential exists with the “locavore” movement.

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“It’s not to vilify grocery stores or anything like that,” Andersen said. “It’s to offer an alternative.

“I hope it appeals to discerning citizens who care where their food comes from.”

Thompson will share his expertise on everything from brewing beer to designing an effective greenhouse for the Rocky Mountain environment. LeVan has experience in everything from growing fruits and vegetables on a relatively large scale to using livestock to enrich the land rather than devastate it.

Andersen and his wife, Lu Krueger-Andersen, grow some of their own food and enrich their gardens with the natural fertilizer produced by their compost pile.

“I take great pleasure in seeing it all come together,” he said. “It feels like it’s a complete system to me.”

There is something “empowering” about planting a seed, nurturing the plant and harvesting the food you depend on, Andersen said. Its roots go back thousands of years to the start of the agricultural revolution.

“There’s a deep memory there,” Andersen said.

After the first session on food, the next community forum will be Sept. 26 on “The Gas and Oil Conundrum.” Instead of bashing the natural-gas industry, Andersen wants the session to explore the touchy topic of how we will heat our homes if we don’t want gas extracted from our backyard in places such as Thompson Divide west of Carbondale.

“To me, it begs a community conscience – can we say ‘no’ and still enjoy the benefits of fossil fuels?” Andersen asked. He will seek answers with Zane Kessler, director of the Thompson Divide Coalition, and Randy Udall, an energy consultant and co-chair of Backyard Energy.

Andersen said he didn’t invite anyone from the oil and gas industry because he didn’t want the session to feature a 90-minute debate. Obviously gas needs to be extracted, he said, but the questions are how and where. Compromises are necessary, Andersen said. Concern over drilling and burning fossil fuels must spur efficiency and energy conservation, he said.

Andersen, often an optimist, also feels there can be widespread agreement on places that need to be protected rather than drilled. His personal view is that there are priorities for conservation of public lands, and roadless areas such as Thompson Divide are on top of that list.

So where will drilling be acceptable, or as Andersen phrased it, “What’s the sacrifice zone?”

“There’s no answer necessarily to any of this,” he said.

The final session will be Oct. 1 on “Water and Rivers,” featuring Jim Pokrandt, of the Colorado River District, and Chelsea Congdon Brundige, director of Friends of Rivers and Renewables. They will look at how the limited supply of water is divvied up in the dry American West and whether our local river systems are healthy.

“It’s kind of a Rivers 101, a primer on water in the West,” Andersen said.

All the issues in Andersen’s public-discourse program are meant to be timely. The dry summer makes the water discussion particularly urgent, he said.

“With the Roaring Fork being drawn to a trickle this year, you could see it – people were shaken,” he said.

He hopes the three-part program informs residents about the issues in greater detail and inspires them to stay engaged with the issues in some way. Informed dialogue, Andersen said, is essential to the advance of a democratic system.

scondon@aspentimes.com