Paul Andersen: Fair Game | AspenTimes.com

Paul Andersen: Fair Game

Paul Andersen
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

Apple syrup is a sweet thing to pour into tea or spread over pancakes. A spoonful in hot water makes a delectable mug of hot cider when spiced with cinnamon and sweetened with honey. Could there be a more flavorful sense of health and security?

Apple syrup comes from the apple tree I adopted through the local Heritage Fruit Tree program. My role as guardian is to prune and care for a homestead tree that’s more than 100 years old. It grows in a horse pasture in Emma, and the landowner receives a share of the cider we press.

A few weeks ago, a group of friends picked apples and pressed cider from that tree, netting 20 gallons. I boiled down 8 gallons into half a dozen quarts of thick, gooey apple syrup. Canning it and stocking it on shelves already laden with jars of pickled beets made me feel like I was putting money in the bank.

If a few people volunteering their time for one day can produce and store the concentrated sweetness of one apple tree to be enjoyed for an entire winter, think what a community of like-minded people could do with more trees, more crops and more land. A Declaration of Food Independence could make that happen in this valley, especially by teaming up with graduates from Basalt’s Permaculture Institute.

When my heritage apple tree was a mere sapling, Eugene Grubb was growing potatoes on his Carbondale farm. Grubb became a potato impresario who developed new genetic strains and won horticultural recognition. In those days, it took long trains of boxcars to ship out the locally grown potatoes.

Historic crop statistics show that this valley can be surprisingly productive. The farm census for Pitkin County bears out Grubb’s enthusiasm: Between 1910 and 1945, Pitkin County annually produced 120,000 to 220,000 bushels (6 million to 11 million pounds) of potatoes. The same statistics show significant production of cattle, dairy cows and cream.

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“No part of the world is better fitted by nature for growing potatoes than the mountain districts of Colorado,” Grubb wrote in 1912. “The Roaring Fork and Crystal River Valley section of Colorado is as nearly perfect in soil conditions as can be found, and the potatoes grown there are not excelled anywhere in the world.”

A Whole Foods outlet is going up at Willits that will charge premium prices for organic food from around the world. We could grow a lot of that food locally and avoid the costs of shipping it long distances. Food would be fresher, cheaper and tastier, and the money spent would stay in the community.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that the Consumer Price Index in 2011 for all food is projected to increase as much as 4.5 percent. Grocery-store prices are forecast to rise 4 to 5 percent, while restaurant prices are forecast to increase 3 to 4 percent. Higher prices are due to higher food-commodity and energy prices along with strengthening global food demand.

Apple syrup won’t keep the wolf from my door, but combined with other locally produced foods, communities can insulate themselves from food-price hikes. My home garden produced in great abundance this summer, and while our harvest fell far short of a year-round supply, we canned enough vegetables to provide for a flavorful winter.

The Pitkin County Open Space and Trails board is considering a plan to utilize designated open space for community farming. They’re looking beyond the typical community garden and considering a much larger scale where commercial growers could produce for whole communities. This could be a job producer for young people like the growers trained at the local Permaculture Institute.

Open space agriculture is already being done in California, where the Marin County Land Trust mixes agriculture with conservation and produces food in quantities suitable for wholesale distribution. Boulder is considering a similar plan. Part of the impetus is food-contamination scares but also the wisdom in using open space land productively wherever possible.

“Food has a direct impact on local economies, the environment, the loss of regional cuisines, the marginalization of the personal connection between farmer and consumer, and more recently, on health,” reported the journal of the Marin Land trust.

The apple syrup on my shelves is tasty. It’s something I’ll savor all winter. Far more satisfying would be a freezer full of locally grown food and the feeling of security, independence, health and savings that comes with it.

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