At our last Aspen Business Connect event, Jerome Osentowski, Founder and Director of Central Rocky Mountain Permaculture Institute, connected with Chef C. Barclay Dodge, Owner of Bosq Aspen. This week we all met up at Osentowski’s Central Rocky Mountain Permaculture Institute, 7,200′, high above the Frying Pan River in Basalt, Colorado.
As I drove up the two miles of narrow road towards the institute, I was thinking about what a beautiful thing it was that my life has taken me to a place where not only am I personally getting to know locals of whom I have always admired, but I am able to share their messages and connect them with others through Aspen Business Connect. For over twenty years I have wanted to meet the legendary man growing food up in the Basalt mountains, and not only did he speak at my last event at Aspen Kitchen, but here I was driving up for a tour with he and one of my favorite Chefs, a tour that was a direct result of their connecting at the last event.
As soon as I joined the others in the greenhouse I was given a leaf picked from a plant in the garden whose name I had never heard of before. Popping it into my mouth the spicy flavors came alive on my tongue, turning it slightly numb. An embarrassing scene popped up in a white bubble above my head of my tongue blowing up or falling off, but thankfully I didn’t panic, trusting that Jerome wouldn’t feed it to us if that were a possibility. The sensation left as quickly as it came, leaving a deliciously sweet aftertaste and the desire to follow Chef Dodge in biting into and crunching on everything pulled out of the ground and plucked off the branch, even after Molly, Chef Dodge’s beautiful wife, informed us that during a Sustainable Settings tour, Barclay was high from tasting everything. I was ready and willing to go there. Just as having Chad Cox, a Sommalier at The Little Nell Hotel, enhance our experience on a Paonia Food and Wine tour, exploring Osentowski’s gardens with Chef Dodge enhanced my experience tenfold as he asked questions I would never have thought of, and spoke of which plants would complement what foods. As Guest Chef for an upcoming Free Range dinner on May 15th, he was in search of the freshest local ingredients from Colorado farms and ranches to add to the three course seasonal dinner.
Osentowski got started back in the 80’s when he got Hyperglycemia from stress. Rather than head towards the insulin needle he started curing himself by foraging for wild foods and eating a macro diet (Macros refer to the three macronutrients that make up the foods we eat: protein, carbohydrates, and fat). On the tour he spoke of thermal mass, nitrogen fixing plants, agroforestry and alley cropping, as methods of sustainable agriculture. Alley Cropping can diversify farm income, improve crop production and provide protection and conservation benefits to crops. I learned the difference between biodynamic and permaculture, how to use Pomegranate, Glycine and viral wild soy bean to create shade, and how to farm worms and make soil from their castings.
Living in a cold climate, Osentowski and his business partner and co-author of The Forest Garden Greenhouse, Michael Thompson, grow almost everything under the sun up their in the greenhouses, including but by no means limited to; annual vegetables, Jujube, Chinese Dates, Red Lady Papaya, cactus, mandarin, kumquats, grapes, garlic, ginger, goji berries and mulberries. They have also been instrumental in identifying, conserving, and propagating heritage fruit trees that have survived and borne crops for over a century in the harsh environment of the Roaring Fork Valley. He is now prepping his facility so that he may turn it over to the next generation of farmers.
Sitting down in the sweet springtime Colorado air for the farm to table lunch, I was further impressed by the conversation that included both Osentowski and Chef Dodge’s staff; Callie Maron, programs director; Vanessa Harmony, Nursery Manager; Jen Ghigiarelli, edible landscaping apprentice; Nick Anderson, Bosq Line Cook, and Rachel Koppelman, Bosq Sous Chef, all well versed in permaculture, and all speaking a language that I was just breaking the surface of. As we tasted the flavors of the gardens with fresh salad greens with Nasturtium, roasted vegetables and kale and sprouted brown rice, I decided I was going to do what I have been wanting to do for a while and really delve into cooking plant-based food for me and my family. AND I am not going to buy milk anymore, regardless of how much they all complain.
After about four hours, there was still so much more to explore, but kids and work were calling. Passing the soothingly soft clucking of the chickens and the furry black rabbit nibbling on grass, I thought of Nick Anderson being immediately transported back to a time and place after tasting something from the garden, and I felt inspired to bring that to my children, soon spreading their wings to new lands, so that they will be transported back to me at any given bite.