Co-Founder and Executive Director, The Farm Collaborative
Aspen High Class of 2004
Vardy remembers the moment he had his agricultural awakening. The Israeli-born son of a Hebrew teacher and a rabbi had always appreciated nature while growing up in the Roaring Fork Valley. But as a “lost teenager” with a “destructive sense of rebellion,” Vardy took an ecological literacy class with popular Aspen High science teacher Travis Moore. One day, Moore brought in a guest, Jerome Osentowski, who runs his Central Rocky Mountain Permaculture Institute on Basalt Mountain.
“It was almost like a light switch,” recalls Vardy, who was “blown away” by the logic of permaculture as a solution to environmental degradation.
Aside from refusing to drive for a few months, Vardy took action by majoring in sustainable food systems at Evergreen State College in Washington while also studying traditional farming and permaculture systems in Thailand, Israel, and Uganda. His globetrotting education was essential to his future vision, but, he says, “each time I came back I noticed how deeply connected to and in love with this valley I am.” For his master’s thesis, he decided to start a local sustainable agriculture nonprofit. Thus, Aspen TREE (Together Regenerating the Environment through Education)—now the Farm Collaborative—was born.
In one way, Vardy had a leg up by starting a nonprofit in his childhood home. But, as in permaculture, where problems and solutions are often two sides of the same coin, that also had its downside. “People still think of me as a little kid,” says the 32-year-old. As he’s begun developing the organization—along with its footprint at Cozy Point Ranch—into a regional food hub that supports the next generation of local farmers, he’s had to prove he’s all grown up and able to pursue some pretty lofty goals.
“I’d like for the Farm Collaborative to help make local foods more commonplace and help connect kids to nature and develop a sense of stewardship,” he says. “I’d love to see Aspen and other Roaring Fork Valley municipalities realize the value integrated farming has for climate-change mitigation and claim this area as a hub of agritourism and sustainable living. And I’d like to develop a global network of communities dedicated to solving our agriculture challenges.” Seems like the one-time “lost teen” has found a life-defining purpose.