Growing vegetables on a high-altitude mesa in southwestern Colorado … during winter? It may seem daunting, foolhardy even, but for Tomten Farm employee Kathryn Helterline, it’s all in a season’s work. Helterline, 29, manages Tomten’s greenhouses, a job that entails keeping things growing at 9,000 feet through the snowstorms, short days and bitter temperatures of winter in the San Juans. The result is both unlikely and delicious: Helterline grows kale, lettuce, mustard greens, Asian greens, mache and more. The farm’s popular “Mesa Mix” — a combination of bright, peppery and flavorful greens — offers the region’s eaters a delicious burst of fresh produce even in the dead of winter.
Helterline grew up in Rhode Island and was always interested in growing food. Attending school at the University of Vermont — New England’s epicenter of local food — only solidified her passion. After college, she moved to Telluride with her now-husband to ski, but quickly found Tomten Farm — the solar-powered, organic farm on Hastings Mesa owned by Kris Holstrom. Helterline was hired as an intern there in ’14-’15.
These days, Helterline splits her time between Telluride and Rhode Island, growing greens on the mesa in the winter and working on her own fledgling farm, Green Gully Garden, in the summers. She loves the work. “It’s really rewarding and also really humbling,” she says. “It has taught me to focus on the successes and learn from the failures … plus I get to work outside and eat food that’s good for me.”–Katie Klingsporn