Paul Andersen: Fair Game | AspenTimes.com

Paul Andersen: Fair Game

Paul Andersen
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

The bankruptcies and foreclosures in Aspen that I wrote about last week debunk the myth that Aspen is recession-proof. One reader replied with a warning that more shortfalls are to come because municipal budgets throughout the valley will face another hit after the next property tax appraisals.

“Watch for the coming revaluation in June 2010 of property values when they are re-marked at lower values across the valley. This will have a negative impact on the revenue streams they create as homeowners make sure their assessment reflects the reality of market conditions. Bottom line for local governments – budget cuts round two.”

I will ponder this gathering storm cloud as I collect free food this weekend by harvesting apples from the Heritage Fruit Tree program. That’s right – free food from a century-old apple tree I “adopted” a few years ago. As caretaker of this sturdy old apple tree, my job has been trimming out dead wood and thinning inside branches to provide maximum sun for the fruit that now hangs heavy on sagging limbs.

In the past few years, my friends and family have enjoyed gallons of fresh apple cider, pounds of crisp pie apples, and a few pleasant afternoons in the October sunshine picking and pressing. You can’t live off apples, but it seems prudent to stock up with home canning that will last us through the winter.

My wife and I have already canned a few gallons of vegetables bought this summer at farmer’s markets. Those jars stack alongside the few jars remaining from last year’s canning of peaches, pears, and plums, all locally grown.

Getting into the locovore (local food) movement is one of the easiest and rewarding proactive measures you can take to offset high food costs and the dictates of agribusiness. My family is certain that the food we preserve is organic and pure because we harvested it.

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In last week’s column I pointed out that the recession is a storm with a silver lining. There’s no better incentive than a downturn to reassess the failings of the local economy and make necessary lifestyle changes. A first step for anyone living where gardens and fruit trees grow is raising their own produce. Work and care is involved, but the ability to obtain nourishment without exchanging money is liberating and a source of pride.

Another reverberation from last week’s column was my wife informing me that Heirlooms, the consignment store in Basalt, is thriving. Now in an expanded location on Midland Ave., the store is alive with consumer activity based on the resale of goods and clothing. Re-use is at the top of the recycling pyramid, so consignments serve the dual purpose of affordability and green commerce.

The locovore ethic and the re-use of goods are entrepreneurial adaptations to an ailing economy and reflect a shift in consumer values. These grassroots enterprises thrive in free market capitalism with consumer support. They start small, but can grow into profitable businesses and community assets. They speak to sustainability with a local focus, which is the direction we need to explore if we’re to wean ourselves from total dependence on uncertain and often unsustainable externalities.

Aspen is not recession-proof, and neither is the Roaring Fork Valley. Municipal budgets have shrunk, as have job opportunities, and both will shrink more. Luxury markets are teetering amid consumer caution, the local economy is in jeopardy, and enlightened entrepreneurial energy is needed to provide rational, sustainable, local alternatives.

The best we can do to cope with this new world is to become what one friend terms “experts in uncertainty,” which implies both mental flexibility and economic creativity. Picking apples from a century-old tree in Emma is a kind of insurance against uncertainty in the food and shipping industries.

Picking apples may seem like a homespun, feel-good palliative to the more serious tremors rippling through our valley, but it’s a step toward savoring something fresh, nourishing and ultimately hopeful as a long-term way of thinking about the future.