I tend to describe myself as spiritually bankrupt, which is less a commentary on my values than my being allergic to anything involving crystals or the cosmos; I blame this prejudice on my mid-20s stint in massage school. But in the late ‘90s, when I first got involved in the sustainable farming movement, I began meeting—and working with—a number of biodynamic (BD) growers and soon learned that, despite my initial skepticism over the more mystical aspects (burying manure-filled cow horns, harvest schedules planned around astral conditions, etc.), this self-described “holistic, ecological, and ethical approach to farming, gardening, food, and nutrition” is totally legit—and produces spectacular results. You can have a chance to see (and taste) for yourself at Sustainable Settings’ inaugural Biodynamic Summer Chautauqua, July 7 through 9. But first, a bit of background.
Developed by renowned Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner in the early 1920s, BD farming emphasizes the use of homeopathic preparations and intensive soil health, as well as biodiverse land management practices. The undisputed leader of Colorado’s BD movement is Carbondale’s Sustainable Settings, an internationally recognized, 244-acre working ranch and Whole Systems Learning center (an “experiential learning environment” with a focus on sustainable development and agriculture) owned by former artists Brook and Rose LeVan. I first met the LeVans a decade ago, and I like to refer to Brook as the Messiah of the Roaring Fork Valley foodshed. You will go far to find two people more committed to a cause, or a parcel of land more lovingly tended.
This summer, in celebration of its 20th anniversary, Sustainable Settings is hosting the aforementioned Biodynamic Summer Chautauqua. The “adults-only, hands-on regeneration retreat” will feature “slow, deliberate, celebratory eating and drinking,” combined with tours of the gardens and grassfed dairy, a slew of workshops on wildcrafting, medicinal herbs, BD soil preparations, mycology, the benefits of BD cannabis, dowsing (a type of divination used to locate ground water), astronomy, chi gong, and BD mixology and wine. In betwixt, there will be a humane lamb harvest for a traditional asado, live music, hot springs dips, hikes, and a wilderness picnic. Family-style meals—served in the 130-year-old heirloom apple orchard—will be prepared by the LeVan’s son Cooper, who has cooked at both Blue Hill at Stone Barns and Gramercy Tavern in New York, as well as yet-to-be-confirmed guest chefs from some of Aspen’s most acclaimed restaurants. As a veteran of many of Sustainable Settings’ farm dinners and harvest festivals, I can confidently say that the LeVan’s 19th century homestead in the shadow of Mount Sopris is my happy place. Eating such high-quality food, grown and raised on the land and prepared with such respect, is damn near a religious experience.
No farming experience is necessary for attendees; the retreat is the LeVan’s way of “sharing how we’re working with the life here,” says Brook. “The idea of the Chautauqua comes from the 19th- and early 20th-century summer gatherings that merged the arts and sciences, good food and fun, to further the culture. We want this first annual event to bring people together to eat the best food that we know how to grow, and learn some of our stewardship practices.”
Tickets are $750 per person (get yours soon; this is sure to be a sell-out event) and include all food and drink, workshops, activities, and on-site DIY camping; email [email protected] to purchase. And if you don’t care to pitch a tent, nearby lodging options include Avalanche Ranch Cabins & Hot Springs and Carbondale and Crystal River KOA.
Sustainable Settings, 6107 CO-133, Carbondale, 970-963-6107