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The girl with the green thumb

Locations: Columns, Opinion Published

Translation by Julian Nihill

Vanessa Harmony is an excellent model for our new era: innovative, dynamic and concerned about the environment. Breaking from the social convention of marrying and having children, she embarked on studying and rigorously experimenting with nature. Now, professionally, she observes, cares for and curates the healthy growth of arboreal beings that have lived over 100 years in this region. 

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Harmony is the founder and owner of the Colorado Edible Forest nursery in Glenwood Springs, a nursery and greenhouse for bushes, plants, herbs and fruit trees that yearn to be planted in homes and farms here under the sun of this valley.

It was a great surprise to encounter a woman so fresh and beautiful. I was expecting someone weathered by the sun, with dry hands and a rough presence. When she met me at her nursery, I was mesmerized by her charming personality and knowledge of horticulture and the environment. Her vision and life story have been defined by permaculture.

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I asked her what permaculture was, given that, for me, it’s difficult to understand the theory of it. She answered me as she swept her arm toward the plants and bushes full of life before me.

“It is a design process based on the observation of nature, using natural processes to minimize resources and manual labor. For example, using worms and mycelium to build soil, or introducing the right insects that consume garden pests rather than applying pesticides.”

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Harmony has forged her own novel path within her urban community and family tradition.

“No one in my family or my ancestors dedicated themselves to cultivating or planting,” she confessed happily. Her website states, “My mission is to grow food, build soil and nurture nature, my vision is the Colorado Food Forest.” 

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She recalls that it was her father who introduced her to backpacking in these beautiful Colorado mountains.

“In summer vacations, we came to Colorado to camp as a family, and I think that what marked me most for this career I have chosen was the National Wildlife Teen Adventure and Wildlife Camp programs here in Colorado.” 

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It was in these camps that she discovered the delectability of berries; that taste of freshly picked wild raspberries has stayed with her ever since. This internal drive has been with her since she was young.

“Ever since I was a child I wanted to save the environment. Maybe I was obsessed because for several years I lived in a large, overpopulated city, with serious problems of inequality and contamination.”

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Her maternal grandmother was Mexican and all of her family on her mother’s side speak both English and Spanish fluently. Her father’s side is from South Texas, and for life’s fickle reasons she grew up in Jakarta, Indonesia and Madrid.

“My mother was the one who nurtured us, my father, brother and me, with her care and affection,” she said, with a gentle smile. Then, changing her expression, she told us, “Now I am the one who nurtures and cares for the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of these arboreal beings that have lived for hundreds of years in Basalt, Emma and Carbondale. These trees, which I grew from grafts of the first fruit trees in the region, are like my children. They are the legacy of those farmers who first planted apples, peaches and plums in what is now Basalt. They are what gives me a sense of belonging and identity.”

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After her formal education and training in permaculture, horticulture and perennial edible plants, she honed her skills by collaborating with Jerome Osentowski for several years.

I asked her what was her greatest strength, and she answered that she was always surprised by her capacity to adapt and openness to change. Getting to where she is now, she had to explore various paths and overcome several obstacles. Being so close to nature, observing it in detail, taught her that living beings are wired to adapt and flourish. 

Colorado Edible Forest is located on Rivendell Farms, close to the Colorado Mountain College campus in Spring Valley. There, Harmony has cultivated, transplanted, and organized a certifiable Edible Nursery. The nursery consists of two sections. The first contains perennial edible shrubs, such as strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, capulines, blackberries and various edible herbs. She showed us a Jerusalem artichoke whose root is beneficial for diabetics and can be grown in small bushes at home or even in pots. The second section contains the edible grafted trees — apple, peach and plum — which require much more land. It’s here that she lovingly tends the offspring of those original plum and apple trees from an orchard in Emma.

Among Harmony´s short-term plans for the future are generating one or two jobs to help care for the nursery, and developing workshops to educate and teach the benefits of planting and designing with permaculture.

Tags: #Colorado Edible Forest #Julian Nihill #permaculture #Vanessa Harmony
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