Picking fresh figs on Basalt Mountain – The Sopris Sun

The Roaring Fork Valley segment of the population that inhabits a small portion of Eagle County often finds its boundaries confusing, inefficient, and frustrating. The State Legislature obviously did not consider watershed or topography when drawing the lines of Eagle County in 1883. Jerome Osentowski, in turn, probably did not do much d inventory of these lines when he first claimed a small enclave near the summit of Basalt Mountain in 1970. Today, their importance is pressing.

Osentowski established CRMPI (Central Rocky Mountain Permaculture Institute) in 1987. CRMPI is an ode to the wonders of nature, with geothermal greenhouses spreading food and soil an abiding testament to sustainable agriculture. Osentowski is a pioneer in permaculture educational programming, teaching classes and testing theories.

He jokes: “We’re the ultimate preppers, but you don’t have to have a bag and walk around, we’ve got it here. I have a one acre bug out bag here.

There are more than 25 varieties of fruit in the Osentowski greenhouses, including figs, pomegranates and bananas. He says, “I learned that I can grow citrus fruits, figs and all kinds of tropical fruits all year round in an eco-friendly greenhouse that doesn’t use a lot of fossil fuels. The sickening smell of fig trees fills the damp air as he displays a cherimoya.

“We have a dozen young women who are doing agricultural work, building a social community, here in this valley, who all came from here [CRMPI].” Osentowski also built forest gardens at most valley schools and a greenhouse dome at Roaring Fork High School. Over the years, he has collaborated with like-minded nonprofits, including the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies and Sustainable Settings.

Osentowski agrees he’s a community fixture in the Valley, but not in Vail. Pitkin County is aware of Osentowski’s contributions to the Roaring Fork Valley. Jérôme’s legacy and the future of the CRMPI are, however, in the hands of commissioners from another community.

Eagle County was presented with a special land use permit application to retroactively authorize some of the gross code violations upon which the CRMPI was built, in addition to approving new uses. Its eight fertile acres are currently located on “resource” land areas and fall outside the standard 35 acres required by state agricultural zoning law. Other counties in Colorado, a proclaimed “right to farm” state, have since expanded the scope of agricultural zoning to accommodate a small farm’s financial dependence on tailored offerings like CSA, marriages and education.

“We made every compromise in our special use license, and we gave up a lot of our rights,” Osentowki says.

Also, the upper part of the road to the educational institute is a tougher road than Independence Pass, with a rutted dirt road and steep drop-offs. Osentowski says he’s invested $40,000 in maintaining the road over the years, but it definitely needs proper grading and improved safety measures. The CRMPI transports its students in a 12-passenger van to alleviate traffic.

After decades of contributing to the Roaring Fork Valley, Osentowski asks for help. He urges people to write letters explaining “what their experience has been and what they have learned from their exposure to CRMPI and why they think CRMPI should continue.” Letters should be sent to [email protected] with “CRMPI SUP ZS-9170-2021” in the subject line.

Filed earlier this month, a public hearing into the matter will be hosted by Eagle County’s Roaring Fork Valley Regional Planning Commission on July 7 at 2:30 p.m. Interested parties may attend in person at the courthouse from El Jebel or via Zoom (link on www.bit.ly/landuseCRMPI).

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