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Buying food at your local farmer's market is a very pleasant way to obtain the freshest, most delicious produce. I still remember the taste of the strawberries and tender French green beans I used to buy at the farmer's market in Santa Barbara, California, when I was a graduate student there. When my children were little, I used to leave them with a delightful elderly couple who liked to knit and listen to the live music in the center of our market, while I ran around and collected food from the stands.


Shopping at a farmer's market (or participating in a CSA, another way to support local farmers), puts us in touch with what crops thrive in the area, and enables us to give neighboring organic farmers income, even if their operations are relatively small. I remember when I lived in Central Texas, our CSA tended to fill the box with mostly okra at the end of the season, when it was too hot to grow much else. There is a reason why okra features prominently in southern cooking!


Here in Colorado, we enjoy the twice monthly farmer's market that sprouts up in a parking lot the middle of our nearby small town. Offerings include a variety of delicious fresh produce, from mushrooms, squash, tomatoes, greens, carrots, herbs, and peppers, to grass-fed beef grown on ranches in the same valley, and even wild-caught salmon sold directly by the fisherman. Vendors also sell useful locally handmade items: we've purchased gluten-free breads, leather goods, pottery, wine, and tamales. We walk around with our basket or reusable shopping bags, so there is no need for plastic packaging or single-use bags. Seeing the same farmers and craftspeople week after week makes us familiar to each other and allows us to offer each other encouragement as well as food and income.

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We are fortunate to have become the human tenders of a 5-acre portion of a mixed conifer forest. This particular micro-climate at 9000 ft in the Colorado Rockies is home to a beautiful diversity of limber pines, Douglas firs, Ponderosa pines, quaking aspen groves, and a smattering of other species, including lodgepole pines, true firs, and Englemann spruces.


As the climate shifts, the population is likely to shift toward the Ponderosa pines and aspens, which thrive on warmer slopes at lower elevations, and are more resistant to damage from wildfires. But we are delighted by the other trees that are here at present.


We have a number of young trees growing on disturbed land, such as the slope immediately above the house, where if they were left to grow they would shade our solar panels. We've been experimenting with transplanting them, but had discouraging results the first year, with only three of 20 seedlings (2 aspens and a Douglas fir) surviving being moved to a different spot, despite our faithfully watering them.


The county provides native tree seedlings prepared for planting and we intend to try planting some of them, and following their advice to increase our success. We will also be transplanting two larger saplings that are growing on the spot where we will be installing our ground-mount PV array, and hope that we will have better success with larger plants.


Once we have learned methods of transplanting and nourishing seedlings, we plan to plant a number of trees each year to draw down carbon from the air. In the meantime, we are also contributing to a charitable organization that is working on reforesting in Colorado burn areas, among other projects, to offset carbon emissions.

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One of the first projects we undertook on our new property was to hire a neighbor with a skid steer to dig swales in the sunny east-facing hillside below our septic field along our driveway. In the berms below the swales, we planted a variety of fruit-bearing plants that another neighbor gave us. This neighbor and his partner have been tending an extensive garden and orchard on a similar east-facing slope not far away for decades, and have identified some varieties that do well here. They were happy to set us up with some starts from their abundance.


Since we are in a zone with many days below freezing each winter, appropriate crops include apples, raspberries, tart cherries, currants, and rhubarb -- fortunately, some of our favorites! Our neighbor even found a pecan tree variety that grows here.


On the berms between the larger plants, we planted bulb onions. We were pleased by the quality and quantity we produced our first year. The soil is well-drained and surprisingly fertile for a mountain hillside. We have had to water the plants quite a bit as they establish roots, but are planning water management ditches and swales to direct runoff along the driveway to the orchard so that it will require less direct watering in the future.


An orchard is definitely a long-term project. I've started orchards several times in the past, and then had life circumstances take me away before I got to enjoy the fruits of my labor. But we have also benefited from the trees left behind by previous owners of properties where we've lived. We hope to live here the rest of our lives, but planting an orchard is paying forward in any case.


Planting an orchard has several climate benefits. By eating seasonal organically-grown fruit and nuts from our own property, we will reduce the carbon footprint of our diet. Enriching the orchard with compost helps sequester carbon in the soil. And the trees pull carbon out of the air as they grow, even before we are able to harvest fruit.


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