FOOD, FIRE AND THE FOREFRONT OF ECOLOGICAL CITIZENSHIP
Who would have thought that an environmental non-profit organization would be growing beef, pork and vegetables; burning and cutting down trees; and cultivating ethical student leadership?
When I-70 closed for a week this year due to a rockslide, it didn’t take long for Roaring Fork Valley residents to realize just how precarious our food system is since only one road connects our grocery stores to the outside world.
In a world where up to 30 percent of carbon emissions are derived from agriculture-related activities and where industrial agriculture is one of the leading causes of water pollution, ACES at Rock Bottom Ranch is on the forefront of the sustainable food movement. Beyond organic, this is food grown mere meters away from where it is being harvested and eaten. Vegetables are grown without synthetic chemicals in year-round season extension structures that have net zero energy consumption. Pasture raised animals integrate into the local ecology, providing ecosystem services through our multi-species rotational grazing system.
This year, the Ranch was the first in Colorado and one of only a few in the country to receive the Wildlife Friendly certification in addition to our Animal Welfare certification.
At the Ranch, ACES teaches thousands of children and adults alike that food is not something that comes from a grocery store, but from an ecosystem that must be protected. ACES provides replicable, scalable models of sustainable agriculture while producing 30,000 pounds of local meats and vegetables annually for residents.
Here in the “wild, wild, west,” where naturally occurring wild fire has been stamped out by humans for the last hundred years, one of the most ecologically beneficial things land managers can do is conduct prescribed burns.
This year, ACES partnered with the U.S. Forest Service, the City of Aspen, and Pitkin County Open Space and Trails to conduct a 900-acre prescribed fire in Hunter Creek valley. This controlled, low- intensity burn of gambel oak and aspen stimulates new vegetative growth, reduces buildup of hazardous fuels, and enhances wildlife habitat, resulting in a more diverse, resilient forest. This decreases the chance of catastrophic wildfires, which pose a significant risk to the Aspen area. This is groundbreaking work for an environmental organization, and ACES is leading the way.
Issues like climate change or water pollution are more than mere environmental issues, they are also human rights issues. Addressing issues like these requires more than environmental science education, it requires human action.
ACES’ Tomorrow’s Voices is a university-level class offered to local high school students. The class develops ethical student leaders in our community by exploring issues such as environmental justice, activism, animal rights, land stewardship, and politics. These young adults will change the world for the better.
Through our programs, lectures, and events, we continue to incubate community leaders, promote civic engagement and public discourse, and create an environmentally literate citizenry, while protecting the true spirit of why we choose to live here – the natural environment.
ACES also continues to do what we do best: educate youth. In the last year, ACES taught life, earth and environmental sciences every day in regional schools to an annual total of 5,050 students, teaching more than 2,700 in-school classes and 397 outdoor field programs in partnership with 48 schools, helping schools meet state science standards and connecting thousands of youths to the natural world through hands-on outdoor experiential education.
In this circus of a presidential election year, I hope we do not forget that, whether you are Democrat or Republican, liberal or conservative, religious or secular, we all need pure water, clean air, a stable climate, healthy forests, sustainable food systems, and functioning ecosystems that support wildlife, our life, and our children’s lives.
This is ACES’ work. This is what we do best.
Chris R. Lane
Chief Executive Officer
Letter originally published in ACES 2016 Annual Report, click here to read the complete publication.