Britta Gustafson: Serving up a community space
Farm Collaborative project will create central headquarters for food sustainability
Last spring, while many were searching for ways to occupy idle time, our workload went into overdrive at the Farm Collaborative. As part of the local agricultural community — the organization focuses on sustainable farming issues — we watched as the pandemic began to highlight food insecurity and reveal more cracks in our food systems.
I feel blessed, every day, to be working with and for some of the most creative, influential and energizing people I have ever met. When the world slowed down last spring, we accelerated.
I’ll admit that working while homeschooling my two kids challenged my sanity, and months went by where every family dinner felt more like the Mad Hatter’s tea party than a time to unwind.
But food was always at the center, regardless of how chaotic life felt. We escaped from quarantine to the FarmPark, where we got down to the basics: helping with chores, feeding the lambs, collecting eggs and reconnecting with the human side of where our food comes from. It was a reminder of what it actually takes to get a meal from the soil to your spoon.
We often sat up on the hay bails watching our favorite show, “Chicken Life,” an ongoing saga where hens vie for social prowess and the roosters strut about and show off dominance. It’s like “The Bachelor” meets “Real Housewives” on “Survivor” with slightly elevated intellect. We love it.
Up until last year, our public FarmPark has been open for business as a place for the community to come together. But we still lacked a central space, something we have been dreaming about there now for years — until now.
Finally, after almost 13 years of dreaming, planning, nose-to-the-grindstone tireless effort, along with plenty of bureaucratic busy work, permits, permits and a few more permits, we have secured the final land-use approvals for a new headquarters building and some site improvements that will help us to fulfill our vision of becoming a year-round agricultural and educational hub for the local food economy.
The unanimous 5-0 vote from the Pitkin County commissioners in April granted us the final approvals of a multiyear planning process. The land-use plan had been previously blessed by Pitkin County Planning and Zoning Commission, as well as the city of Aspen (the open space board and Aspen City Council), which owns the 168-acre Cozy Point Open Space parcel on which we operate about 15 acres as a public FarmPark.
Our new net-zero building will include indoor to outdoor classrooms, event space for farm-to-table meals and additional FarmPark functions, a welcome center, a fresh produce retail farm stand, a kitchen for classes and food processing, and a pollinator roof garden.
Oh, and a space in which to work. As much as I have loved Zoom, I can’t wait to feel the energy of a working environment and feel reconnected as a team. And yes, we will still be able to hear the roosters and smell all those fresh farm smells.
It’s the latest step forward after a year of growth at the Farm Collaborative.
Last spring, when there was a growing apprehension that local farmers might not make it through the summer, our executive director Eden Vardy began to formulate a plan to unite food insecurity programs with struggling farmers and help create a system that benefits both the growers and those in need.
From his tireless efforts arose an emergency food relief program that helps to get local food into local food pantries, supporting those in need at both ends of the supply chain.
We merged with the 2Forks Club, an organization that provides interest-free loans to community farmers and local food entrepreneurs. It’s a regenerative philanthropy project where loan funds recirculate: when a borrower repays a loan, it goes back into the fund for future lending.
Our tool share library is expanding too, allowing small, young farms to share the cost-prohibitive equipment that is often only needed for a small time but can be vital to the farming process. The new proposed housing library will offer mobile seasonal housing for extra labor on small farms.
And our educational opportunities are ever expanding. This year we are offering a new Eco-Apprenticeship program for teens and tweens that will help to bridge the gap between the nature loving kids in the Earth Keepers program who are enthusiastic about our wild world and the burgeoning valley farmers who steward this landscape.
We even inherited EdibleAspen magazine in an effort to continue publishing the narrative of local food in this valley. Thank you again to Lisa and Sam Houston for this honor.
Now, as much as I have appreciated the remote work, I can’t wait to collaborate face to face once again. We will always have our hands in the dirt, but in a year or two we also will have a brand new headquarters building to share with the community, too. Let me know if you would like a site tour!
Let’s exchange a piece of my mind for a little peace of mind, after all, if we always agree, what will we talk about? Britta Gustafson appreciates an open mind; share yours and email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.