Everywhere you look, The Living Farm is full of life. Under the care of Lynn Gillespie and her family, this fourth-generation farm in Paonia is flourishing in every sense of the word.
The Living Farm’s business model is multi-faceted. Lynn manages about 2 acres of land, which is mostly comprised of greenhouses and outdoor raised beds (a total of 20,000 square feet of actual growing space). In that space, she produces thousands of pounds of produce, runs an educational demonstration garden, and operates a farm-tour program (complete with a petting zoo). Lynn also keeps about 100 sheep on the pasture behind her greenhouses. In addition to using the sheep for meat and dairy, Lynn hand makes a full line of felted wool products like slippers, scarves, mittens, and slippers.
Lynn’s husband Tom and son Ben manage the other 200 acres, growing hay and grains, and raising cows and poultry. Her other son, Mike, runs The Living Farm Cafe in downtown Paonia, using the farm’s produce and meat, plus other local ingredients from Farm Runners and other farmer friends.
Lynn grew up in Denver and moved to Paonia with her husband Tom about 30 years ago. Tom’s family has been farming this same piece of land at the foot of Mount Lamborn since 1938. Originally, they grew hay and grains and kept animals. When Lynn started having kids, she knew she didn’t want to send her them to daycare, so she had Tom build her a greenhouse to work in.
The “Big House,” first built in 1991, is lush with greens, bedding plants, and strawberries. this time of year. It is heated with geothermal energy, allowing Lynn to grow greens all winter long. When I walked into the house, I was shocked to see her strawberries already a deep red, ripening a good month ahead of everyone else’s around here.
In the years since she put up her first greenhouse, Lynn has added a couple more greenhouses with innovative heating systems. “Solar has always been a passion of mine, ever since I was a kid,” says Lynn. For her second greenhouse, she uses passive solar energy to heat the soil without petroleum inputs. Warm air trapped at the peak of the structure gets funneled down black tubes and into a gravel chamber at the base of each cinderblock raised bed. Warm air stored in the gravel radiates to the soil, which can raise the temperature by as much as 13 degrees in the winter.
In all her beds, Lynn uses what she terms a “perpetual motion system.” New beds are seeded each week, helping Lynn and her team keep a constant supply of salad greens almost all year long. In the summer, she expands her offerings to tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, beets, and a plethora of other veggies.
The Living Farm follows an organic growing philosophy closely tied to Lynn’s personal beliefs about nurturing the soil and her family’s health. “My growing philosophy is: If I can’t put it on my table, I won’t put it on yours.” Organics comes from the heart, she says, not a piece of paper, she says.
For more information about Lynn’s online garden education program, The High Performance Garden, check out her website. Through free videos, tutorials, ebooks, and more, you can learn to have a successful garden using the same principles Lynn employs on her farm.
And finally, no trip to a farm in the spring is complete without some little lamb snuggles:
P.S. If you want to get some lamb snuggles of your own or check out the garden, The Living Farm will be open for tours starting in May. I highly recommend it 🙂