Local cuisine in the Crystal Valley – The Sopris Sun

By Dale Will

Not so long ago, many predicted the end of agriculture in our valley. Rising real estate values ​​were seen as the death knell for our local ability to produce food. Fortunately, we are now in the midst of a real renaissance in public concern about local food systems.

Can Crystal Valley produce food? In a word, yes. In 1912, Eugene Grubb characterized the fertility of the Valley as follows:

“No part of the world is better equipped by nature for the cultivation of potatoes than the mountainous districts of Colorado…The Roaring Fork and Crystal River Valley section of Colorado is as perfect as possible in soil conditions, and the potatoes grown there are not. excelled all over the world, and are matched only in a few places. -Eugene H. Grubb, “The Potato” (1912).

Between 1910 and 1945, Pitkin County produced 120,000 to 220,000 bushels (6,000,000 to 11,000,000 pounds) of potatoes per year. The agricultural census of these years also shows a very important production of cattle, dairy cows and cream.

The loss of agricultural land was identified decades ago as a significant threat. The central mountains lost 655,000 acres to suburban sprawl from 1987 to 2002 (see “Losing Ground,” Environment Colorado, 2006).

We are fortunate that much of the farmland in Crystal Valley is now protected by conservation easements. These legal restrictions permanently remove development rights and protect land for continued agricultural production. Darien Ranch, Cold Mountain Ranch, Sustainable Settings and other key irrigated lands in Crystal Valley are now safe from development.

A recent conservation success story is Sunfire Ranch, a 1,240-acre tract at the mouth of Thompson Creek owned by Jason and Alex Sewell, direct descendants of its original farmer, Myron Thompson.

In the early 1970s, the ranch was subdivided into 29 separate 35-acre parcels, spread across the canyon and ridges. Full development of these lots would have significantly degraded its remaining farmland as well as important habitat along Thompson Creek. The irrigated portions of the ranch have been in continuous agricultural production for over 130 years. In December 2020, the Sewell brothers granted a conservation easement to Pitkin County Open Space and Trails, permanently protecting these lands.

Of our historic cash crops, until recently, only beef remained in large-scale production. However, with the renewed interest in local food, “bioneers” such as Jerome Osentowski have shown that virtually any plant that grows on Earth can be made to grow here, albeit sometimes under cover.

Of all the new faces changing agriculture in Crystal Valley, perhaps none is more innovative and talented than Casey Piscura, owner of Wild Mountain Seeds, based at Sunfire Ranch, just south of Carbondale. Wild Mountain Seeds is a vegetable grower, transplant nursery, seed breeding farm, and high altitude research and education center.

Casey founded Wild Mountain Seeds to “share the love of agriculture through the collection and adaptation of food plant diversity, the development of innovative growing systems, and the distribution of beneficial foods and seeds for the health with a story”. See www.wildmountainseeds.com for more information. Casey’s produce is available every Wednesday at the Carbondale Farmer’s Market.

Sunfire Ranch will host CVEPA’s next 50th anniversary celebration at 4 p.m. on August 21. This event will include a visit to Seed Peace, the non-profit organization born out of Wild Mountain Seeds to solve systemic problems in the local food basin, with a mission to accelerate the transition. regenerative agriculture and land management in the Roaring Fork Valley. Space is limited for the 3 p.m. tour, pre-register by emailing cvepa@outlook.com; otherwise, no registration is necessary for this free event with live entertainment and keynote speech by activist Maggie Fox.

We are very proud to present two inspiring elements of our valley’s local food movement: a permanently preserved historic ranch, now home to a state-of-the-art farm. For more information, please visit www.cvepa.org/