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Meet Lem Tingley of Growing Spaces

Today we’d like to introduce you to Lem Tingley.

Lem, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
There are really two stories to tell, my story and that of the founders of Growing Spaces. Growing Spaces has deep roots in Colorado, starting with John Denver and the Windstar Foundation outside of Aspen. Back in 1985, he teamed up with Tom Crum and Buckminster Fuller, the inventor of geodesic domes. They were operating on the assumption that if we learned “to do more with less,” we could feed the world and solve our environmental problems. The Windstar Foundation housed a large Biodome showcasing sustainable practices. It inspired them to build Biodomes across the country.

Udgar Parsons, a dentist from Northern England, was hired to help with the project. When he first walked into the Biodome from the barren frozen landscape of the wintery Rocky Mountains, and into a tropical paradise, he was inspired to bring this technology to the backyard gardener. Udgar learned to farm and garden off-grid in the UK but was frustrated by the short growing season here in Colorado. He scaled down the Biodome into sizes and prices suitable for the average homeowner and added several unique features to improve efficiency that allowed it to operate on 100% solar power with no additional fossil fuels. Udgar and his wife Puja founded Growing Spaces in 1989 and over 30 years later, there are thousands of Growing Domes in all US states and 14 countries. The dome has undergone iterations and continual improvements, but the original unique features that make it a year-round, 4 season greenhouse are still intact.

Udgar and Puja retired in 2018 and wanted to make sure the Growing Spaces legacy continued as a family-owned and operated business.

My wife Liz and I acquired Growing Spaces in April 2018. We were initially attracted to the company as a Colorado-based manufacturing company making innovative and environmentally friendly products. We were excited to promote sustainable and healthy lifestyles through the manufacturing and installation of the Growing Dome. I graduated from CU Boulder in Mechanical Engineering and have been working for Colorado-based manufacturing companies for the last 25 years. My core values revolve around efficiency, superior quality, exemplary customer experience, and conscious business practices. The company is based in Pagosa Springs, but we are currently expanding operations to Golden, CO.

To help bring more visibility to the Growing Dome in metro Denver, we recently donated the use of a 26′ Growing Dome Greenhouse for GoFarm’s Farmer Incubator Program. GoFarm is a Colorado-based local agricultural non-profit, and the project is centered around spreading the importance of urban agriculture, providing fresh, local food to the community, and supporting local, sustainable farmers through training and mentorship. The construction of the greenhouse was finished in August 2019 by local volunteers and will be available for customers in the Front Range to visit and experience the unique growing environment of a Growing Dome. (once the stay-at-home order is over)

We look forward to enabling more customers to grow healthy and nutritious food year-round without external power!

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
As a first-time business owner, there have been a number of normal business challenges. But our biggest challenge as a business has been navigating through the building permit and HOA approval processes, especially as we expand into the Front Range and into more urban and residential areas. Building departments treat the Growing Dome as an accessory storage structure, even though it used to grow food and really should be considered a ‘protected’ outdoor garden. HOAs not familiar with geodesic technology, not surprisingly, tend to point out that the structure does not match traditional home designs. Once they learn about the structure and how it can grow food year-round without any external heat or fossil fuels, they see both the functionality and the beauty of the greenhouse. We have had many cases where the HOA may reject the greenhouse on the first application, but once the homeowner presents the technology and benefits, it gets approved unanimously.

Growing Spaces – what should we know? What do you guys do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
We are most proud of our community of Growing Dome Owners, and those that are working towards being more self-sufficient and growing their own food. We have a couple vibrant Facebook groups where our community can ask and answer all kinds of year-round gardening questions. We have tons of online content on year-round gardening, many of which are written by dome owners, as well as a popular YouTube channel. We also host a gardening grants page, fundraising page, and post announcements on opportunities for our community to help non-profits and schools that are raising money for a garden or greenhouse.

We like to think we are more than just a greenhouse company and are here to help everyone create a more sustainable way of living. But at the same time our net-zero greenhouse technology also sets us apart from other greenhouse manufacturers, especially in extreme climates like Colorado.

Our food travels hundreds if not thousands of miles before it is stocked in the produce aisle, and Growing Spaces would like to make it possible to pick your meals right off of the vine, in your own backyard, school or community garden. We also encourage people to go to their local Farmer’s Market, start a backyard (or front yard) garden, build a window box or purchase a starter aquaponics system to grow their own food indoors. They will quickly see the difference in taste and nutritional value! (Hint: it comes from the soil!)

What is “success” or “successful” for you?
My views on success have changed dramatically since I left the corporate world. After being laid-off, I immediately shifted focus to volunteer work for a climate group. But quickly got frustrated by the lack of progress and attention from federal, state and local politicians. I still needed to earn a paycheck, so I decided I would start or purchase a business that was truly trying to make the planet a better place. When my wife and I came across Growing Spaces, it was a perfect fit. While we are still running a for-profit business, our success will be more defined by the people and communities we are helping be healthier and more sustainable. The more Growing Domes we can provide for veterans, food-insecure communities, lower-income schools the better.

We must leave the planet better than how we found it, and there is no better measure of success than building a product that will truly help.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Kenzie Jackson – Director of Marketing

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