By Madeleine Ahlborn |

THE San Luis Valley Local Foods Coalition and its 10th annual SLV Harvest Festival is headed to Center and the new Frontier Drive-Inn for a two-day celebration around the fall harvest, the regenerative practices of local farmers in the Valley, and the exploding Art and Experimental Architecture movement in and around the town of Center.

Billed as Local! +Scenaria Annual SLV Harvest Festival, this year’s celebration mixes in a commissioned piece built by Ronald Rael at the Frontier Drive-Inn with an array of other works. The weekend also adds in a panel discussion of artists and filmmakers hosted by The Dish SLV and held at the long-shuttered Ford Motor Garage in Center. “The harvest celebration will be an extravaganza of food, film, music and art,” says SLV Local Foods Coalition Executive Director Liza Marron.

Sharing voices behind the event

Liza Marron 

Liza Marron, 35-year resident of the San Luis Valley, who has been part of the San Luis Valley Local Foods Coalition since its inception in 2009, speaks about the multitude of activities, art, music, films, and the overall celebration of our farmers here in the SLV. 

“This is our 10th annual local harvest festival where we celebrate the harvest. We’ve done it in Crestone, we’ve done it at a camel farm in Conejos County, we’ve done it many years at our Rio Grande Farm Park, which is nestled right into Alamosa on Highway 17 and 160.

“This year, we partnered with the Frontier Drive-Inn, a kind of avant garde art space, where people can stay and see films and music and all kinds of things. The harvest celebration will be an extravaganza of food, film, music and art. It’s a two-day event, and it goes from 4 p.m. to 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. 

“It might be chilly, so bundle up. We will have farm booths, educational booths, food trucks there feeding people with local food, and kids activities. Saturday, we are partnering with The Dish in Center, that’ll be at the Ford Garage (294 Warden St.) where we’re going to have a panel discussion, where each presenter has 20 slides and 20-seconds per slide. So on our panel discussion, we’ll have Ronald Rael, unveiling his adobe structures; Christi Bode, who’s a film artist and her documentary, Farm to Faucet, it is being shown at the Frontier Drive-Inn; Sarah Jones, an organic potato farmer; Heather D’Alessio of Milky Way Mountain Caprines talking about her raw goat milk project. Erica Enriquez, who won the grand prize for her chili recipe in July, will serve food. And then we have a couple others.” 

At the San Luis Valley Foods Coalition, she said, “we’ve been working to foster an equitable local food system here in the SLV. And we do that with a 38-acre farm incubator, a food hub aggregation and distribution service to about 100 farms and ranches, cooking education, and an economic development and healthy food access strategic planning process called Local Food Local Places.” 


Local! +Scenaria Annual SLV Harvest Festival 

WHEN: Friday, Sept. 30, and Saturday, Oct. 1.

WHERE: Frontier Drive-Inn: 105 E County Rd. 11N, Center, CO


Highlights of the weekend:

Sept. 30 music 
Tone Ranger
Inaiah Lujan

Oct. 1 music
Blue Book
Tio Puerta

Sept. 30 films
Quantum Cowboys – Geoff Marslett
Baca the Kid – Antonio Marquez

Oct. 1 films
La Frontera Central – Joseph Kolean
Farm to Faucet – Christi Bode
De Esos Polvos – Alejandro Almanza Pereda

What is the Frontier Drive- Inn? Revisit the Citizen’s Coming Attraction story for a little history and the behind-the-scenes plans for what is now a full-blown art and film experience. 

This harvest season marks not only the celebration of local farmers’ regenerative practices, but also art and experimental architecture. Featuring commissioned pieces built at the Frontier Drive-Inn by a team of artists, designers, and architects; they call the structures Adobe Skylos

About Ronald Rael
About Virginia San Fratello
About Rael San Fratello Studio
About Mud Frontiers

Liza speaks to the importance of the celebration of our local foods and the farms that drive the Valley’s way of life: “The farmers, agriculture, it’s the way of life here. It’s really important and the Rio Grande is the lifeblood, it is one of Colorado’s most important agricultural regions in potatoes and alfalfa and barley, but there are many small farms and ranches that also grow yak and beef and lamb and pork and bison, everything from asparagus to zucchini and everything in between.

“We’re just really, really in a rich growing region. We’ve been working hard to make that food accessible to the people who live here, as opposed to the export model that a lot of our agriculture is modeled on. Also the importance of regenerative agricultural practices so that we are sequestering carbon and growing rich organic soils in our region and preserving our water, reducing our water usage and adding value to the food that we grow here so that people have the relationship with their farmers and ranchers; their farmers markets, their grocers, their food hubs, and we can have strong, short, resilient supply chains that don’t break down.”

In closing conversation with Liza, she states, “I’d love to share that we’re really celebrating the people in the Center area in this project. There’s a large number of farm workers and farmers, it’s a big agricultural area and we get the sponsors so that this event is free for the residents of the San Luis Valley. Equity and inclusion are really important to us and we want to make sure that our monolingual speakers, our Spanish speaking community, as well as our Mayan, Guatemalan community feels welcome at our event. It’s a family friendly Welcome we are offering to the community.”

Filmmaker/director Joseph Kolean

Joseph Kolean, who moved to Denver from the Midwest about 11 years ago, was asked to participate in the film screening lineup for the Harvest Festival. We spoke on the phone for about an hour and he described his role in the process, his practice, and shared an amazing story that brings his practice full circle.

The 2022 Harvest Festival was not the initial event that brought Joseph to the Valley – rewind to 2018. “I had a friend who was friends with Mark (Frontier Drive-Inn developer Mark Falcone), and asked me if I wanted to offer some services through an auction for a nonprofit. And I said, ‘Yeah.’ Mark had a rough plan in mind, ‘I want to do something. I’ve got this new project I’m trying to figure out and I want to do something about the San Luis Valley, something that captures its strangeness and its beauty.’ It’s just an interesting place. And so we made this piece, where they kind of gave us free rein, Mark and Luke (Falcone). So we made this really weird video (not the video being shown at the festival) that’s the context. Around that same time, I met Ronald Rael. A friend of mine told me about him. When I told my friends I was trying to figure out what to do for this commission in the San Luis Valley, he was like, ‘well, you should talk to this guy, this architect, and he’s a UC Berkeley professor.’ So I just messaged Ronald on Instagram, he got back to me and so we started talking. I have these two separate directions into the Valley.” 

So there is the context of the meeting and connecting in the SLV; now fast forward to 2021, Joseph tells me: “I was at an adobe plaster workshop that Ronald and some other people put on at one of Ronald’s properties, and he asked me, ‘are you still doing stuff with Falcone? The Frontier?’ Not right now, but I should check in with them. He told me he was working on something there, 3D printed adobe structures. So my friend and I went and checked it out on our way back from the adobe plaster workshop. It was in the very, very early stages. This was set in late May, early June of 2021. So it was there, but it wasn’t what you see now. I just started thinking, ‘Oh, I should make something about this, I should see if Ronald will let me record this.’ I asked him if it was all right, and I started documenting it. Just here and there, his work and this small crew. I just started showing up. At some point, Adam Gildar asked me if I’d be willing to piece something together, some type of preview that I can use as an epilogue for this event at the end of September, beginning of October.”

I asked Joseph about his thoughts about the project, and his reasons for saying yes to document and create the footage that surrounds it now. 

“I had been wanting to potentially do something about Ron’s work at some point, but just hadn’t really figured it out. Then I thought, well, I might as well give this a shot. I’m interested in architecture, I hadn’t made anything about architecture and especially the type of architecture that Ronald’s doing. I like architecture, I don’t know a lot about it. So part of this for me, is learning more about what he’s doing, sensing that he’s kind of on the bleeding edge of what’s possible with 3D printing. That intrigued me, this experiment of sorts that he’s doing, there’s a lot that is fascinating about this particular project that made me want to scoot down from Denver to see if I could record some of it.”

Joseph continues to say that the film shown on Oct 1 is not the final film. “This is what I would call an extended fairly meditative preview … I was like, I can do this. I want to be part of this. I really like the Valley. I like Ronald, I like Adam, I like what they’re trying to do with this old drive-in. It’s a really fascinating and wild location for a movie screen. So I wanted to be part of that. I put something together, and this is that something.” 

Joseph shared one last story with me that really struck me as profound advice and a beautiful promise made. Here’s the story that begins the journey and brings it all back. In 2020 the MCA in Denver hosted an interactive exhibition where a viewer/participant would make a promise with a promise keeper who would fall witness to the promise being made.

Says the greater of the work, Paul Ramirez Jonas: “The work interrogates and celebrates how language functions as the bedrock of civil society. Further, it emphasizes that it is our trust in one another that imbues language with this power. This trust legitimizes our government, legal system, and other public institutions and processes as much as it allows us to count on our friends to meet us when and where they say they will.

Profound, right? Joseph tells me he was going to make a “joke promise” for fun, but as he approached to write it, a real promise came to him, “I just felt like maybe that there was something there, like, before you were talking about magic, maybe this was something I needed to do for myself. I decided that I was going to promise to be light. And I meant that as much as I could understand the full expression of that meaning. I wanted to be like myself, be easy on myself, not be so heavy hearted. I feel like everybody alive, maybe everything that’s alive, has a light that they can shine. If they want to. So I went up and made that promise. Then the guy who was a secret keeper, his name is Abner, looked me right in the eyes. In my memory, he put his hand on my shoulder and said ‘Do you know what my name means?’ and it had something to do with being light. He couldn’t believe that I promised that. So this is a very meaningful moment that I kind of harken back to from time to time when I’m like, ‘Wait, should I do this? Should I not? Am I making it really heavy?’

“I’m trying to remember that promise that I made to myself, I want to be light. So thinking about it, I already had this other thing going in the Valley. It’s bigger than I can understand. I had already wanted to do something about architecture and it’d be cool to capture what Ronald’s doing. And so, in that spirit of lightness that’s it. You know, you don’t know how long you have, I don’t really know why we’re here or any of that.  So why not just treat it somewhat lightly, and go and try.”