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Picking fresh figs on Basalt Mountain

Locations: News Published

The slice of the Roaring Fork Valley population that inhabits a small portion of Eagle County often finds its boundaries baffling, inefficient and frustrating. The State Legislature evidently didn’t consider the watershed or topography when they drew Eagle County’s borders back in 1883. Jerome Osentowski, in turn, probably didn’t take much stock of these lines when he first staked his claim on a small enclave near the top of Basalt Mountain in 1970. Today, their significance is pressing.

Osentowski created CRMPI (Central Rocky Mountain Permaculture Institute) in 1987. CRMPI is an ode to the wonders of nature, with geothermal greenhouses propagating food and the land a standing testament to sustainable farming. Osentowski is a pioneer of educational programming in permaculture, teaching classes and testing theories.

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He jokes, “We are the ultimate preppers, but you don’t need to have a bag and move, we have it right here. I have an acre bug-out bag here.”

There are more than 25 varieties of fruit in Osentowski’s greenhouses, including figs, pomegranates and bananas. He says, “I learned I can grow citrus and figs and all sorts of tropical fruits, year-round in an ecologically-constructed greenhouse that doesn’t use a lot of fossil fuels.” The cloying scent of fig trees fills the humid air as he shows off a cherimoya tree.

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“We’ve got a dozen young women who are doing agricultural work, building a social community, here in this valley, who all came from here [CRMPI].” Osentowski has also built forest gardens at most schools in the Valley 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 that he is a community staple in the Valley, but not over in Vail. Pitkin County is aware of Osentowski’s contributions to the Roaring Fork Valley. Jerome’s legacy and the future of CRMPI, however, are now in the hands of commissioners from another community.

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Eagle County has been presented with a special land use permit application to retroactively allow some of the egregious code violations upon which CRMPI was built, in addition to approving new uses. Its fertile eight acres are currently situated on land zones “Resource” and don’t fit within the standard 35-acres required by the state’s agricultural zoning law. Other counties within Colorado, a proclaimed “Right-to-Farm” State, have since broadened the scope of agricultural zoning to accommodate a smaller farm’s financial dependence on bespoke offerings like CSAs, weddings and education.

”We have made all the compromises in our special use permit, and we have given up a lot of our rights,” Osentowki says.

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Additionally, the upper section of the road leading to the educational institute is a more harrowing drive than Independence Pass, with a rutted dirt road and sheer drop offs. Osentowski says he’s put $40,000 into maintaining the road over the years, but it is undoubtedly in need of a good grading and improved safety measures. CRMPI shuttles its students in a 12-passenger van to mitigate the traffic.

After decades of contributing to the Roaring Fork Valley, Osentowski is asking for help. He urges people to write letters telling, “what their experience was and what they gained from their exposure to CRMPI and why they think CRMPI should continue.” Letters should be sent to planningcomments@eaglecounty.us with “CRMPI SUP ZS-9170-2021” in the subject line.

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Tabled earlier this month, a public hearing on the topic 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 El Jebel Courthouse, or via Zoom (link at www.bit.ly/landuseCRMPI).

Tags: #Central Rocky Mountain Permaculture Institute #CRMPI #Eagle County #Jerome Osentowski
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