It’s not about social pressure. It goes beyond practicing what he preaches. Eden Vardy, Executive Director of the Farm Collaborative, strives for carbon-free living for the future. Whether it’s working towards a net-zero home (one that produces as much energy as it consumes) in Basalt or launching a five-million dollar capital campaign for his local non-profit, he has one thing on his mind: what the planet will look like for generations of children to come.
“I love my children and as a person who appreciates this planet, this incredible valley, and these wonderful opportunities in my life, I feel like I would be doing a disservice to not think about future generations,” said the environmental steward. “It is fundamental in my core to think about the future generation.”
Vardy’s “day job” at The Farm Collaborative, formerly known as Aspen T.R.E.E., is working to make local food more resilient and accessible. Their motto is: “connected by food, guided by nature, and rooted in place.” They are also working towards educating the next generation of environmental stewards with their Earthkeepers programs for kids. In his free time, Vardy employs energy-efficient practices at home by retrofitting his current house and drawing up his own Path to Zero plan for a future home. Aiming for carbon-free living isn’t a choice, it’s simply his lifestyle.
That’s exactly why he came to CORE in 2018. Vardy applied for The Randy Udall Energy (TRUE) Pioneer Grant, CORE’s biggest grant offering. This annual program provides up to $200,000 in funding for nonprofits, businesses, schools, and public agencies achieving carbon reduction through innovative energy projects. He set his eyes on not only reducing carbon, but reversing it. With inspiration from Paul Hawkens (author of the sustainable energy gospel, Drawdown), Vardy and the Farm Collaborative set out to incorporate alley cropping and carbon sequestration into their daily agricultural operations.
“We want to revolutionize our food system and shift how we relate to food. It may be one of our most impactful ways to turn around climate change,” stated Vardy.
The “it” Vardy is referring to is carbon farming. This sustainable agriculture approach reverses the flow of carbon that is being released into the atmosphere. Specifically, by planting rows of trees at wide spacings with a companion crop grown in the alleyways between the rows (a method known as alley cropping), Vardy’s team can capture and hold carbon in vegetation and soils. While Vardy admits that the notion of plants putting carbon back into the ground is not groundbreaking, the concept can yield big impacts.
What exactly are these big impacts? Don’t all plants grab carbon from the atmosphere? That’s why we like trees, right?
The difference is that it is both intentional and quantifiable. Alley cropping provides the opportunity to research, experiment, and quantify the amount of carbon they are sequestering from the atmosphere. Their work will provide a case study and be a model for others. They are an ambassador, looking to understand the technology’s impact and increase knowledge about it here in the Roaring Fork Valley.
“Agriculture has the ability to transform itself from a net source of CO2 to a net sink of CO2,” Vardy stated in their grant application.
The goals of this project are to grow food in an ecological way and to sequester carbon using the alley-cropping method. By making food available locally, the Farm Collaborative is providing delicious veggies and fruits that consume far less energy than it takes to get you those avocados from City Market. A bonus to their master plan is that the “waste” on site will never actually be wasted; instead it will serve as resources they can use again in the farming process.
That got CORE’s attention. The Udall Grants are centered around emissions and carbon reduction, but something else can tip the scale for an application: creative solutions. And as an added bonus, they’ll be sharing that data with us.
“What drew us to the Farm Collaborative project was that they were talking about doing something different and innovative in our valley and quantifying those results,” said program director and grants manager, Marty Treadway.
CORE awarded the Farm Collaborative a grant of $25,000. The partnership has enabled Vardy to bring in more donors for the capital campaign, which recently passed the 50% threshold.
“One thing this [grant] has allowed me to do is fundraise,” added Vardy. “Heritage Park is one part of our capital campaign. This has given me the opportunity to leverage CORE and say ‘Won’t you stand behind us too?’ and allowed us to bring in more donors.”
The Farm Collaborative’s promise to cut carbon and prepare the next generation of environmental stewards goes hand in hand with CORE’s mission and the spirit of Randy Udall (CORE’s former director and namesake of our largest and most competitive grant).
“Fundamentally, this is a campus for our future and for our children and children’s children,” said Vardy. “These kids can plant trees now and then in high school they can harvest those trees they planted when they were 5 or 6.”
Are you designing an innovative energy project? Do you represent a Roaring Fork Valley government agency, nonprofit, school or business? If so, you may qualify for up to $200,000 in funding from CORE. To learn more about The Randy Udall Energy (TRUE) Grant, visit our webpage.
Catherine Lutz is a freelance writer based in Aspen. As a former newspaper reporter who has written about everything from entertainment to skiing to climate change for a wide variety of publications, nonprofits, and businesses, she understands the power of words to help connect us more closely with an idea, issue, or other people. An avid skier and biker raising two children to appreciate how lucky they are to grow up in the Roaring Fork Valley, she also hopes she and her family can make a positive impact on the community and the environment that sustains us.