Rock Bottom Ranch is a part of the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies (ACES), an Aspen-based non-profit organization whose mission is “to inspire a life-long commitment to the Earth by educating for environmental responsibility, conserving and restoring the balance of natural communities and advancing the ethic that the Earth must be respected and nurtured.”
At Rock Bottom Ranch, ACES works to showcase how wild and agricultural lands can not only co-exist, but also thrive. Rock Bottom Ranch educates the community about where their food comes from, as well as showcases scalable models of sustainable agriculture. ACES makes over 100,000 contacts annually, largely though their educators, who provide environmental science education programming for over 48 schools in the Aspen area. In addition, ACES offers classes for adults, camps for kids and guided hikes in some of the Roaring Fork Valley’s best places.
ACES acquired the 113-acre ranch in 1999. In January 2013, Jason Smith became the Rock Bottom Ranch Director. Jason was first exposed to agriculture while working under Ryan Hardy, Executive Chef at The Little Nell, who purchased a farm to source high-quality, local ingredients for the restaurant.
Jason has turned the focus of ranch operations toward high-welfare, pasture-based livestock production. Raising animals on range has known benefits for people, animals and the environment that coincide with ACES’ land stewardship goals, constantly improving soil and pasture health. “Our hogs are a part of restoration projects on the farm,” he explains. “We place them in areas where we would like some soil disturbance to fend off noxious weeds or to create a seedbed for replanting native grasses and shrubs. We also use the pigs in forested areas to help clean out undergrowth and begin to work the soil.”
Jason is also a proponent of pasture-based management because “it just makes sense.” He says, “With planning and the correct infrastructure, animals can do all of the work. It minimizes fossil fuel use, manages noxious weeds, improves fertility, and saves time from mowing, haying and spraying chemicals. It’s also not subject to the variable costs of commercial industrial agriculture—things like changes in fertilizer price don’t affect us.”
Jason pursued Certified Animal Welfare Approved by A Greener World (AGW) certification for the 180 laying hens, a small flock of meat birds, and 25 Large Black hogs living on the farm to verify that Rock Bottom Ranch staff are using the best practices possible and to raise awareness about the Certified Animal Welfare Approved by AGW logo. “I knew that the Certified Animal Welfare Approved by AGW program was great to work with and that putting up the sign would help tell the story we want to tell,” says Jason. “We feel that it is critically important to educate consumers about where their food comes from and make them aware of misleading labeling in the marketplace—like cage-free, free-range, vegetarian-fed, and so on. We also hope to show farmers what a great marketing tool this is to help your product stand out in the marketplace.”
In the longer-term, ACES aims to use Rock Bottom Ranch to show the public that it is possible for nature and agriculture to coexist, while producing healthy food for their community and educating people on the benefits of supporting small farms.
Certified Animal Welfare Approved by AGW pasture-raised eggs, chicken and pork from Rock Bottom Ranch are available directly from the farm. Rock Bottom Ranch pork is also available at farmers’ markets in the Aspen area. Donation-based farm tours are available weekdays at 11 AM throughout the year, and free cooking demonstrations take place the second Tuesday of each month from 5:30 PM to 7 PM in the fall and winter. To learn more about the Ranch, contact Jason at email@example.com and 970-927-6760. To learn about Aspen Center for Environmental Studies, visit aspennature.org. You can also follow ACES on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.