Remembering Linda Kay James of James Ranch

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Linda Kay James, a key leader and founder of the James Ranch in Durango, Colorado passed away at the age of 80. A long-time practitioner of Holistic Management and close friend of the Savory Institute, Kay pioneered regenerative agricultural practices in southwest Colorado.

Kay and David James raised their family of five children on their ranch where they were enriched with the love of the land, animals, plants, and family. Twenty-seven years ago, the adult children began migrating back to the ranch seeking the joy of rearing their families there and utilizing and improving this land.

Today, seven different agriculturally based enterprises are flourishing at James Ranch. The family has a quality of life goal that dictates the ranch remain in agriculture as a lifestyle preference for the families and open space for the community.

The following appeared in Linda Kay James’ obituary in the Durango Harold:

“When Mom and Dad got back into the grass or the beef business, Dad took a long hard look at his grass, and in some places on the ranch it was not very diversified, so he went in and he planted legumes like Dutch white clover and alfalfa. And so he actually kind of formulated the pastures to have a diversity of forage, so that every time we move our cattle they have fresh feed. They go in, and it’s like a salad bar. There’s just a whole lot of different things to eat,” said Kay’s daughter Jennifer Wheeling.

Linda Kay James was a city girl, born in 1940 in Alhambra, California, and self-taught in gardening, canning food, baking, cooking and sewing.

“We have funny stories about getting hand-me-down clothes,” Wheeling said. “My brother remembers getting my snowsuit from the ’70s, with a funny floral pattern. He was embarrassed to wear it.”

In the 1980s, James headed James Ranch Landscaping, which focused on reclamation of roadsides, piggybacking on the ranch’s knowledge of grasses, after major highway projects. She could be seen on construction sites in her pink hard hat.

James spent stints leading La Plata County 4-H Youth Development and serving on the Durango School District 9-R Board of Education. She helped found the Durango Education Foundation and Leadership La Plata.

She is survived by her husband, David; children: Jennifer Wheeling, Julie Ott, Cynthia Stewart, Dan James and Justin James; and 10 grandchildren.

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