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Sustainable food

Paul Andersen
Aspen, CO Colorado

When I read last week that Sustainable Settings, an organic farm outside Carbondale, might have to close down, I thought of the empty produce aisles at City Market a couple years ago.

That’s when I-70 was closed because of a rock slide and food trucks couldn’t get through. Within two days, the produce bins at City Market were bare. If the trucks hadn’t come soon, other shelves would have been stripped.

A lack of food at the grocery store makes you appreciate the wisdom of supporting local agriculture, which Sustainable Settings practices with organic, grass-fed cattle, sheep and yaks ” yes yaks! ” those big, furry ruminants from Asia – plus produce, eggs, chickens, milk and cream.



Brook LeVan, who runs the nonprofit 244-acre ranch, said he’s being priced out of the Crystal Valley by the high overhead that comes from requirements and fees from Pitkin County, where the ranch is located. What the newspaper called a “failed experiment” seems doomed, not by agricultural challenges, but by bureaucracy.

In the article, LeVan referred to Sustainable Settings as a “lifeboat” that can offer healthy, locally-grown food, sustainably. You’re not going to feed the Roaring Fork Valley on 244 acres of mountain meadows, but the work being done on the ranch could become a model for more Sustainable Settings in the Roaring Fork Valley and elsewhere.




Why support a small, low-budget farm? As LeVan points out, localized agriculture might become the only assurance we have for a secure source of food. As the national economy tailspins into a credit crisis and peak oil jacks up the price per barrel of Saudi crude, food supply lines could become tenuous. LeVan is trying to create a contingency against finding empty aisles at the grocery stores.

Pitkin County ought to bend over backward to keep Sustainable Settings in the neighborhood. The ranch is a template for a sustainable food supply that is healthy and local. It’s the local part that’s most important, especially as centralized systems are threatened by dependence on everything from foreign oil to rock slides on the interstates.

Growing healthy food is another reason to save the ranch. If you want proof, read Michael Pollen’s “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” and see where our grocery store food comes from. Most of it is totally reliant on petrochemicals and long supply chains, all of which are over-extended and vulnerable.

Most of the food we buy is so pumped full of hormones, antibiotics, pesticides, herbicides and a toxic mix of chemical fertilizers that it’s a wonder the whole population isn’t on the tipping point of a national health crisis. Come to think of it, maybe it already is.

Pollen’s book is an eye-opener, a fascinating foray into the industrial “factory” food system that produces enormous volumes of cheap food all based on cheap energy. Pollen’s book is a scholarly, nonfiction expose akin to Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle,” and just as powerful.

The fact that Sustainable Settings cannot meet the code requirements and expensive improvements necessary to satisfy Pitkin County is indicative of a county that no longer can support a nonprofit ranching operation trying to survive on a shoestring of donations.

Of all the millions of dollars squandered in Pitkin County for superficial absurdities, a percentage should go toward an experiment in locally grown, organic agriculture – both for the health and security of residents and as a nod to the traditional uses of the land.

Look at the history of the valley and you’ll discover that the ranching families that settled here were largely self-sufficient with vegetable gardens, home-grown meat and fruit orchards. Their ranches and communities were sustained by hard work and locally grown food.

Pitkin County has become so gentrified that a working ranch cannot make ends meet, even when its mission could be a saving grace to every resident. LeVan said that the work at Sustainable Settings is “urgent” because food is a necessity that should not be left to top-heavy, centralized systems.

He’s right. What could be more urgent than securing a sustainable model for healthy food? All else in Pitkin County ” the elite subdivisions, the high-end cultural amenities, the expansive ski industry ” pales by comparison.