Kris grew up in rural Virginia, earned a degree in forestry and a master’s in horticulture, and spent a year in Atlanta before heading west. Newly single, Kris spent some time in McElmo Canyon, with its creek and narrow canyon walls deep in the Four Corners area. There her sister and family operated Battlerock Farm, some 60 acres of bottomland in this secluded canyon, where ancient Anasazis once flourished. Inevitably, Kris drove into Telluride and liked what she saw.
And now, how’s this for a Telluride romance? In February 1987, Kris meets John Holstrom in Telluride’s Roma Bar, an early day watering hole popular with the town’s young newcomers. They hit it off right away. John is living in the historic old Lavendar cabin, on Deep Creek Mesa. They ski into the cabin – remember, this is 1987 and there’s nothing else there. In no time, a big storm hits. With a knowing little laugh, Kris says, “We were snowbound.” They married in June, camped out all summer, and in the fall bought an acre of land on Hastings Mesa, which, of course, is now the site of Tomten Farm, their innovative, truly ground-breaking, high altitude organic “market garden.”
Both the farm and now her job with the Coalition perfectly express her all-encompassing faith in “community.” As in a significant number of community members working together to accomplish mutually important and beneficial goals. While that definition sounds hackneyed, Kris suggests that in today’s complicated world “community” is our best hope. Creating Tomten Farm on a small plot of seemingly inhospitable land required considerable faith in the viability of “community.”
In the beginning, Kris and John lived in the Lavender cabin on Deep Creek Mesa and skied to work at the new Telluride Regional Airport, where, for about eight years John was the line supervisor and Kris worked as the Regional Airport Authority’s highly capable secretary and administrative assistant. In 1989, Kris started a garden on their Hastings Mesa land, and a couple of years later the couple officially christened Tomten Farm.
Word spread quickly about the wonders of this 9,000-foot high garden. Soon the manager of Telluride’s Campagna restaurant asked Kris if she’d consider growing fresh produce for the restaurant. Indeed, she would. And now Tomten Farm has a thriving fresh produce business, selling to restaurants and at the region’s increasingly popular summer farmers markets.
Over time, the farm has been the seasonal home and working environment for some 80 young interns. From four to six interns work there each summer, living in tents and cooking in what Kris calls “an outdoor kitchen.” Considering Hastings Mesa’s drop-dead gorgeous mountain setting, this has to be a very choice camping experience for these mostly “20-something” summer interns. The farm is allied with a number of colleges and universities, developing a variety of summer programs to meet the interests of prospective interns.
But the Holstroms budget was tight. With no outside funding, farm costs came “out of pocket,” Kris says. This was typically the way they’d always managed their finances, from buying their land, developing the market garden project, and along the way, raising two kids.
When, just a year ago, Kris took on the job of sustainability coordinator for the newly created Community Coalition, she was breaking new ground – defining what this new job would cover and what it would accomplish. Today, Kris is an informed presence at a whole variety of regional meetings – including the San Miguel Power Association, the Telluride Town Council and a recent Norwood gathering set to foster sustainability concepts in the Wright’s Mesa area.
She describes herself as “really passionate” about community, plus, “It’s way more fun to work together.” The new nonprofit group’s major funders are San Miguel County, the towns of Telluride and Mountain Village, along with generous support from San Miguel Power ($20,000) and the Telluride Foundation, among others. This year, some $200,000 in public funding allows the Coalition to hire technical specialists (energy auditing, for example) as well as set Kris’s annual salary at $55,000.
It’s hard to imagine anyone better suited to this demanding new enterprise. In action, she’s a composed, attentive, interested, highly informed presence. The quintessential diplomat-advocate.
She says, “I’m not afraid to say ‘I don’t know.’” To be effective, you must “learn to work with people’s quirks,” adding that being effective is a very high personal goal. Together with civic activists Kathy Green and Betsy McKinney, Kris and others laid the foundation for this young effort. With one year “under our belt,” Kris says she feels the Coalition’s energy sustainability program “is doing pretty well.” They focus on six general areas, with the top efforts aimed at renewable energy and efficiency, and green building standards – “clean and green.” Other priorities are recycling or “resource recovery,” food security (locally grown) and the economy and education.
To these ends, the Coalition works closely with other organizations, such as The Telluride Institute and now local schools, encouraging student participation. Kris credits that effort to their 15-year-old daughter, Kelsey, who said, ”Listen to us now – before we’re adults.” (Son Kirk, 17, is spending the year as an exchange student in Finland.)
Meanwhile, John Holstrom works full time at the Wilkinson Public Library in Telluride, and heads building and maintenance at Tomten Farm.
Somehow, along the way, Kris manages to continue as a member of San Miguel County’s Planning Commission, and writes frequently about serious gardening, public affairs, and school sports for a local newspaper.
Don’t be surprised when you spot Kris at the next meeting you attend. She’s the sturdy, just-turned-50 woman with short blond hair, a glowing complexion, and steady, penetrating eyes that sweep the room for clues. She’s taking notes, she’s intensely involved and when she chooses to enter the dialogue, she draws everyone’s attention. This woman is fully engaged. But, can Kris Holstrom, TNCC Sustainability Czar, sustain this pace? If her first year on the job is typical, the answer is a resounding, “Yes.”