The valley’s inviolable harvest
September 25, 2005
The hay meadows at the Fender Ranch in Basalt were beautiful in mid-September when long windrows of fragrant hay lay on the emerald green fields. Those artfully irrigated meadows sloping gently down from the mosaic of fall colors on the mountainside describe a bygone economy of yeoman labor. Growing hay will no longer be the focus on the Fender Ranch, which is targeted for development. The age of irrigating in Wellingtons, with a shovel over the shoulder, directing mountain snowmelt into the folds of the earth, is fast becoming a relic of our ranching past.The Fender Ranch, like most other ranches in the valley, represents a secondary economy to the enormous riches of real estate development. Luxurious homesites have overwhelmed most of the valley’s ranch land and will soon dot the Fender Ranch. The supremacy of opulent second homes overrides agricultural values with sad predictability and economic finality. Ranchers originally had no intention of making a killing on the land, but only a comfortable living. Today, legions of real estate agents cashing in on the ranching landscape look on hay meadows as personal fortunes. What is the value of a hay crop when measured against commissions?I ponder this while munching an apple from a wild apple tree along the Rio Grand Trail. I rode my bike 10 miles to taste that sweet, succulent Jonathan, and it was worth every turn of the pedals. My harvest preference for the land is organic, savory and healthful. It doesn’t require palaces featured in glossy sales brochures.My friend, Michael, who rode with me, also enjoyed a crisp apple, but had his mind on harvesting wild hops for brewing beer. A little further along the trail he stopped to pick the flowering heads of hops while I began collecting acorns from the leafy shade of burr oaks.The tastiest acorns are turning from pea green to teak brown. I pop off the cap, bite the husk to crack it, then peel it with my thumbnail to reveal a peanut-sized nut that crunches between my teeth with a meaty texture and an earthy flavor. As I chew I think of the Utes, who once pounded acorns into a mash with berries and dried it for a tasty, nutritious snack.At another harvest a few weeks ago, friends held a cider-pressing party in Emma. They live in a century-old homestead ranch where an apple orchard produces tons of fruit, weighing the limbs low to the ground for easy picking. The heavier the fruit, the more accessible it becomes.We poured apples into the hopper by the bushel while someone cranked the handle and ground them up for the press. A hickory ax handle levered the screw mechanism that bore down on the apple mash and extracted tart, brown juice by the gallon. With such a pleasing harvest, why don’t we grow more food locally?The answer lies in our subservience to the dominant economies of mechanization, agribusiness and land development; in short, our narrow view of modernity. This mechanistic approach to exploiting everything for a profit is so commanding because it has become habitual. Never mind that the soul suffers under the ensuing exploitation. Business is business, and it’s not about the soul.If you believe, like me, that life is interwoven and interconnected, you pose a challenge to the ruling economy. Celebrating the valley harvest suggests a Milagro Beanfield War because it means recognizing the very real potential of local, independent food production. It values the land, not as square footage, but as arable, productive, living land.On Basalt Mountain Jerome Osentowski grows food commercially and so does Jennifer Craig in Woody Creek. Isn’t there room on an irrigated ranch for a cooperative greenhouse or a major fruit orchard instead of the next subdivision? Why not multiply that wild apple tree on the Rio Grande by a thousand?In New Orleans we saw what happens when social structures collapse. We know the supply of oil is tenuous, and yet we blindly trust to its inexhaustibility. We know the cost of being ill-prepared, and yet we muddle along without a contingency plan for the inevitable upheaval.Question the ruling economy and you’ve taken the first step in freeing yourself from it. Celebrating the valley harvest is the beginning. Savor the juicy bite of a wild Jonathan, the sweet scent of a hay meadow, the tart, crisp flavor of fresh cider, the raw meat of an acorn, the flavor of wild hops and you’ll have the ingredients for a revolution.Paul Andersen’s column appears on Mondays.
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