Alison Gannett: From Daredevil Skier to Sustainable Champion
09 Dec, 2012
If you know the name Alison Gannett, it may be as a world-champion freeskier—a competitor in a high-risk sport involving skiing in the backcountry off trail, performing jumps and tricks and flying down slopes into unknown terrain. From 1987 to 1999 Gannett competed in and won freeskiing championships all over the world, as well as appearing in numerous films about the sport. An overshot landing—from a 50-foot cliff—temporarily put her out of commission in 1999; so she returned to her original passion, that of creating a sustainable world. She has since taken this up as her primary vocation, and in addition utilizes her amazing ski talent to help promote the issues.
Much has happened in the time following this fundamental change in Gannett’s life. She has founded four nonprofit organizations, including the Save Our Snow Foundation, which is dedicated to the reversal of climate change through education of school children, and has toured extensively in support of this cause. Her work has definitely been recognized: she was named Hero of the Year by Ski magazine and Green All-Star of the Year by Outside magazine.
Gannett’s most recent effort, however—and the one where she is now spending the most time—focuses on a subject near and dear to us all: food.
Holy Terror Farm
“For at least the last 10 years, I have been calculating and reducing my carbon footprint, starting with the biggest one for me, which was travel,” Gannett told Organic Connections. “Next I worked on my house and transportation. But lastly I have concentrated on food, which was the giant elephant in the living room. I began working to purchase all my food within 100 miles in 2007, established the online farmers’ market LocalFarmsFirst.com in 2009, and then moved to full-time growing and raising our own food at Holy Terror Farm in 2010.”
Holy Terror Farm is a 75-acre homestead dating back to 1889, located in a hidden river valley near Paonia, Colorado. “The name Holy Terror refers to the river that runs through our farm,” Gannett explained. “It gets crazy scary when the snow melts in spring.” On the farm are grown over 300 varieties of heirloom fruits, nuts, vegetables, grains and beans. Gannett and her partner Jason Trimm also raise Scottish Highland beef cows, rare-breed chickens, and pastured pigs. Produce that they don’t utilize themselves—by preserving, canning, freezing or storing—is sold at their nonprofit online farmers’ market.
Gannett has taken her farm beyond organic, and regularly pushes the envelope in the effort to be ever more sustainable. “There is really no word in America for the type of method we use,” she continued. “In Europe they call it ‘integrated farming.’ In short, we are aiming for closing the loop completely, as well as striving toward having the orchards, gardens, and animal systems working together. For instance, our chickens debug and fertilize the orchards, while the Akbash livestock guardian dogs keep the chickens safe from predators and also prevent the birds, deer, elk and bears from eating all the fruit. The chicken bedding then goes into the compost, which along with pig poop makes the best compost for the gardens. The gardens grow our veggies, grains and beans, including some for the animals, while the weeds from the gardens along with damaged or excess fruit and veggies get fed to the pigs and cows. The turkeys eat the fly larvae out of the pig poop and the chickens clean the cow patties from the fields, spreading that fertilizer so we can increase the health of our grass for grazing. The animals provide not only food for winter but essential oils for cooking and soap making.
“Each year we try to increase our self-sufficiency even more.”
Indeed prior to the farm, Gannett was constantly working toward that goal. Before moving to Paonia, she designed and built an eco-friendly straw-bale house and designed a solar-powered SUV.
Gannett isn’t keeping all of this to herself. She also uses Holy Terror Farm as an educational tool. “We do lots of educational projects at the farm—from farm camps to farm tours and more,” she said. “We hope to inspire and spread knowledge of what is possible, but also to learn from others.”
Part of the research Gannett is conducting on her farm deals with the subject of carbon sequestration—a fancy term for a simple concept that means the utilization of soil to capture atmospheric carbon. “Next to the oceans, soil has the most potential for absorbing carbon,” Gannett pointed out. “If I remember correctly, that potential is so great it is estimated that if all farms in the US moved away from industrial agriculture toward farming practices that build organic matter in the soil, we could sequester 23 percent of the world’s excess carbon.”
This would certainly be no small feat—and Gannett would like to see farmers rewarded for making such changes. “Eventually I believe that farmers will be paid for their ecosystem services—absorbing carbon,” she said. “This greatly depends on the type of farming practices along with soil and water variables. I hope that I can team up with some scientists to do studies on my farm and on several local farms nearby.”
In It from the Beginning
Although she became known far and wide for her daredevil skiing, reversing climate change and creating sustainable lifestyles were with Gannett from the beginning. “I think my path toward making the world a better place began at birth, following the footsteps of my grandmother and mom,” she related. “My mom energetically fights for regional environmental issues, while my grandmother fought to protect Boston’s water supply and fought for all kinds of environmental issues while in the Massachusetts House of Representatives in the late 1960s and early ’70s.”
Gannett never forgot her environmental roots. She graduated magna cum laude with honors from the University of Vermont in 1987, with a BS in environmental science and botany, then went on to study alternative energy and energy efficient building design at Solar Energy International. In 1991 she opened her first business dedicated to climate change.
From her farm, Gannett hopes to generate the possibilities for our future. “We all need to live within our means,” she concluded. “Local, regional and global ecosystems all have a carrying capacity. We need to live in a manner that respects that there are many generations to come after us. Our farm is an experiment to see what is possible!”
For more information, please visit www.alisongannett.com.