The allure of the Colorado Rockies is not just limited to the ski industry, river rafting, bougie boutiques, and swanky restaurants. The farming and ranching industry was once the bricks and mortar of the greater part of the Western culture here in the Roaring Fork Valley. Whether farming produce, wheat and grains, or raising cattle, horses, pigs or goats, there is an entire local industry here that has been feeding our valley in glamorous hotels, restaurants, cafeterias, and our homes.
In the late 1800’s-early 1900’s, the livelihood of the Roaring Fork Valley, especially in the Carbondale area, was founded on potato, corn, and hay farming. Potato crops thrived on the loamy volcanic combination of sand, silt, and clay soil. Families lived off their crop and livestock until the introduction of the silver and coal mining industries in conjunction with the railroad establishments, which allowed them to sell their crop outside of the immediate area. A living was made from the farming and ranching families’ own blood, sweat and tears; everyone worked together as a unit to establish these fertile and fruitful farms. Work ethic and dedication were fundamental personality traits instilled at birth and were a means of survival. Early to bed, early to rise; large hearty breakfasts were consumed at dawn to fuel the family for the long days’ hard, physical work under the relentless rays of intense summer sun, and long, frigid snow-driven winters.
Sadly, the number of actively run ranches throughout the Roaring Fork Valley has diminished exponentially. There are few ranches that are still operated by generations of original owners. In a generation comprised of more diverse and less dangerous or physically taxing job opportunities, fewer people desire to work in an industry which requires such tremendously demanding physical labor 24/7, 365 days a year, with limited financial reward.
Over 30 farms and ranches are currently on the market in the Roaring Fork Valley, and many of them will likely be sold to developers of homes and golf courses or converted to “gentleman’s farms” or family compounds. Much of the fertile land will lay dormant as a crop or livestock-producing swatch of fertility. According to Carol Dopkin, one of the top-producing real estate and horse property Brokers with Engel & Völkers who has served Aspen for over 30 years, “Ranches in the Aspen area are now mostly custom home site developments and small horse operations throughout the Roaring Fork Valley.” She added that thankfully, some of them have implemented conservation easements, so the land remains as-is in perpetuity, and cannot be further subdivided or developed.
More to date, during the on-going Covid-19 crisis, there is an increasing demand throughout the Roaring Fork Valley from Aspen to Glenwood Springs, for larger parcels of land on which multiple sects of families can reside in quarantine together, yet separately, and with much more open space to feel safe from potentially dangerous environs. Perhaps this “new norm” has a silver lining; it could re-instill the importance of family and community. Perhaps society will become less consumer-driven, more resourceful and self-sufficient, reviving a traditional habitat once embedded in nutrient-rich soil.