Bridging The Gap

For years, environmentalists and ranchers have been suspicious of each other. Fort Collins’ Sustainable Living Fair is doing a pretty darn good job of changing that.

September 2012

In our cities, this want—and need—for sustainable living has manifest itself in what’s become known as “urban homesteading,” the process of growing vegetables, raising animals, and preserving and preparing one’s own food. It can be a tricky endeavor for novices who didn’t grow up on a ranch or farm. (Even if they did, they might not have absorbed the pickle-making lesson their mom tried to instill. At least I didn’t.) It’s in this movement where the cross-pollination of aggies and hippies is really taking root. At this year’s fair, a large-animal veterinarian will talk about the 10 big mistakes people make when they bring home meat animals. (“Nothing’s worse than bringing home five chickens and having four of them dead the next morning,” Aberle jokes. “That sends people back to buying from the store pretty quick.”) Other speakers include Rachel Kaplan, author of “Urban Homesteading,” the de facto bible of the practice; and Alexandra Cousteau, granddaughter of Jacques Cousteau and a renowned water expert in her own right. There are also many traditional ag people—dairy owners, farmers, and ranchers—who will give presentations or host booths.

All of which means that each year there are a few more cowboy boots in the crowd, which can be nothing but a good thing. And in this regard, I have high hopes that the human race is evolving. “It hits all our insecurities when we feel like we’re being judged,” Aberle says. “And that cripples us into not doing anything. For this fair, we want people to come and feel welcomed. Just do what they can at the moment to lead a more sustainable lifestyle. Pick one thing that makes sense in your life, then see if you want to add something else later. Plant a tomato. Who knows, maybe next year you’ll want chickens and kale, too.”

As someone who’s spent much of her life with one foot in the ag crowd and the other in the enviro crowd, I no longer feel like I’m doing the splits. The two sides have united in both surprising and predictable ways. Gone are the days of “Cow free by ’93” (a slogan once used by enviros to get cattle off public lands) and the vitriolic mutual hatred. These diverse groups have come together in Colorado to improve watersheds, water use, and the overall health of the land. Although there might always be wariness, human nature being what it is, events like the SLF can help break down those barriers. Everyone needs to eat, and many of us want to do it with awareness and responsibility. The same goes for green building, renewable energy, natural health, social responsibility, transportation issues—and yes, good old-fashioned entertainment.

That’s why I’m looking forward to this year’s fair. I’ll be watching for whirling dervishes and cowboy boots, checking to see how they interact. Enough with the differences, I say. Embrace all of wacky Colorado. Land. Food. Water. Air. Animals. Community. That’s what matters, and it’s why a little cross-pollination between these long-opposed camps might someday, I hope, flower into a bumper crop of goodwill and inspired conservation.




The Sustainable Living Fair (the largest event of its kind in the Rocky Mountain region) will be held in Fort Collins on September 15 and 16 at Legacy Park. The featured speaker is Alexandra Cousteau, National Geographic emerging explorer and water advocate. There will be 200-plus exhibitors, 75 workshops, hands-on experiences, and live music and entertainment. One suggestion? Come early to go to the farmers’ market in Old Town, walk north through Old Town’s shops, and end up at the fair.