May 25  |  Our Communities


Meet the Family Behind Fort Collins’ Sunray Natural

Whether you’ve recognized them or not, you’ve definitely seen Josh, Kirsten and Gabe Hillhouse at markets across Northern Colorado. You’ve probably tasted their farm’s grass-fed beef as well as their chicken, duck or quail eggs, spice blends, tea blends and gluten-free baked goods. And maybe you even brought one of their “Lassie” pups into your own home.

But even before the family homestead Sunray Natural was born, Josh and Kirsten were an important part of the Northern Colorado community.

After a decade of running their own marketing agency and even buying and selling foreclosure homes right here in Larimer and Weld Counties, the couple realized just how important good food was for them and for their community. “We are inspired by the magic of a seed and how it can transform the landscape, our dinner plates and our physical and mental health,” Josh said.  

Sunray Natural Fort Collins

Photo courtesy of Sunray Natural

So six years ago, they combined the knowledge gained on his grandfather’s conventional farm in Missouri and their experiences growing up amongst both mothers’ at-home gardens and Josh and Kirsten Hillhouse set out on an adventure.

“It all started in the backyard of our landlord’s house,” Josh said. “We didn’t have a yard but wanted to grow some garden goodies and our landlord gave us the opportunity. It’s spiraled from there into an 8-acre permaculture paradise.”

Sunray Natural Fort Collins

Photo courtesy of Sunray Natural

But in between the humble garden and the paradise were years of cultivation. “Kirsten and I bought our property at auction and have spent over a decade bringing the house, outbuildings and the land back from dilapidation and neglect. Our garden’s soil is very important and we utilize organic permaculture principles to bring the soil food web back to life, thereby allowing us to grow some of the healthiest and tastiest foods possible.”

Today, with help from interns and their 11-year-old son Gabe, the family produces 35 dried herb and spice blends, 36 herbal tea blends, fresh herbs and greens, amazing grass-fed beef, organically fed and non-GMO eggs from chickens, ducks and quail along with plant starts and a few gluten-free baked goods made with local, organic fruit.

Sunray Natural Fort Collins

Photo courtesy of Sunray Natural

The goal is not just to farm; it’s to be true foodie homesteaders. “Our style of ‘farming’ utilizes many aspects of traditional agriculture versus conventional practices. We’ve ditched the tractors and use our hands, shovels and muscles while also growing polyculture (multi-species) gardens that are as diversified as our farm offerings are. Our products may seem somewhat independent of each other but the truth is everything on our farm helps out other aspects in some way. For example, weeding our gardens helps feed the birds and creates mulch while the mulch helps conserve water and the birds make fertilizer to continue building our soil’s health. Our approach is to mimic the natural cycles of nature and stack our efforts so anything we do serves several purposes and adds to the functionality, efficiency and sustainability of the homestead.”

To summarize, Sunray Natural is not just a farm in Fort Collins; it’s a community, an ecosystem and a homestead. It’s a place for Gabe to flourish and learn, for all of us to support sustainability and even for a small family of farm-raised collies to gambol.

That’s right. Along with the meats, herbs and chickens at Sunray, you’ll find Titan, Layla, Rosemary and, occasionally, their adorable offspring.

Sunray Natural Fort Collins collies

Photo courtesy of Sunray Natural 

“My wife and I were involved with multiple humane societies and rescues throughout our 20’s. Kirsten worked as a vet tech and shelter manager while I helped with their marketing endeavors. We also fostered more than 20 dogs and cats over those years, focusing on rehabilitating abused pit bulls and other medically fragile and orphaned newborn pets. Our experience with and love for all animals runs deep and as we started our homestead… we felt we had the appropriate background and respect for pets to become breeders.”

Josh went on to explain, “Our dogs are family and they help work the farm in their own ways, whether it’s alerting us to predators, taking out the mice and voles, running off the hawks, giving lots of hugs and kisses, lifting spirits, or just making the whole team laugh it up.”

Sunray Natural Fort Collins Collies

Photo courtesy of Sunray Natural

And the newest addition to the K9 side of Sunray Natural are two female Boston Terrier pups! “Bluebell is a red Boston Terrier with ice blue eyes and Jasmin is a petite brindle Boston. They’re nearing a year old now and are the farm comedy crew, chasing each other constantly, tormenting Titan and Layla, snorting and snoring during naps, and generally being hilarious,” Josh said. In the coming years, they’ll be bringing home a blue male Boston and offering colored Boston Terrier puppies along with the collies.

Whether it’s in regards to puppies, herbs, teas or chickens, the team at Sunray Natural encourages everyone to use their food budgets in an effort to stand up for pure and healthy food while enjoying the superior flavor and well being these foods offer. Josh said, “It’s tough to farm, especially organically with sustainability in mind. Please talk to your farmers, ask questions and support those that really care about supporting natural cycles, soil health, pure seed and the health of the planet as a whole!”

 

Where can you find Sunray Natural?

Sunray Natural Fort Collins Farmers Markets

Photo courtesy of Sunray Natural

You can meet Josh, Kirsten and Gabe regularly at markets throughout Northern Colorado. In 2017, you’ll see them at Saturday’s Larimer County Farmers Market in Old Town, Drake Road Farmers’ Market and once a month at Longmont’s Boulder County Farmers Market. Sundays, they’re at Harmony and Lemay in Fort Collins for the Fort Collins Farmers’ Market. On Thursday mornings, they’re at the Estes Valley Farmers Market then they head to Windsor for Summer Nights on the Green with a concert and a market!

Sunray Natural Fort Collins Farmers Markets

Photo courtesy of Sunray Natural

Products can also be purchased from the online store or on the North Fort Collins farm at the Homestead Store! Shopping on-site is by appointment only.

If you have more questions for the family or want to stay up-to-date on the homestead, follow Sunray Natural on Facebook and Instagram!

You can contact Josh and learn more about Sunray Natural (and their puppies) on the website.

And to support other farmers, artisans and small business owners in Northern Colorado, check out our guide to farmers markets in the area.


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