A North Lawrence couple has a vision to build a small, nontraditional farm.
Building warehouses. Starting up light industries. Subdividing former farmland to put in new homes.
Those are some ways improvements are sprouting up in several areas of North Lawrence.
But not in Natalya and John Lowther's back yard.
They have a different vision of what property improvement is all about.
In January, they had 10 acres behind their home rezoned from industrial to agricultural use.
And now they're trying to create what they say is a small, nontraditional farm on the property, which they've named Pinwheel Farm.
"I've always wanted to farm," Natalya Lowther said. "In the long run, I'd like it to be a place where families can come and see what a farm is."
The plan is to create a profitable small farm, with sheep, chickens and a marketable garden with vegetables and cut flowers.
Squinting in the sun, Lowther walked around on the property, just north of her home at 1480 N. 1700 Rd.
She stood near the center of the "pinwheel," where she hopes eventually to have four 120-foot-square gardens.
The plan for the farm started about 18 months ago when industrial development began moving their way.
They learned a 10-acre soybean field north of their home would be sold for a warehouse development, and a street would be built on an easement just east of their home if the warehouse went in. So they quickly bought the property and had it rezoned.
"I felt like it would be a real shame, a real loss to the community, to put pavement over high-quality farmland," Lowther said.
At first the neighbors were concerned. There were rumors the couple was going to put in something like a big hog operation.
"People aren't used to someone rezoning things other than for their own financial interest," she said.
But Lowther said she went around and talked to neighbors about their goal to turn the property back to environmentally friendly farmland.
"There's a number of property owners around us who feel the same way," she said.
Lowther said she recently took "the scary leap" of quitting her job in Lawrence to devote full time to the effort. Her husband still works as a computer programmer for the Kansas Department of Health and Environment in Topeka.
Earlier this year, they planted pastureland for the sheep. And they also have planted a "shelter belt" of trees near a drainage ditch.
The trees will provide screening from the turnpike and the commercial property to the northwest, Lowther said. They also will provide food and shelter for song birds and wildlife.
Lowther said she was learning about farming as she went. And she is trying to stay away from using any expensive farm machinery.
"I figure the first three to four years I'm going to make more mistakes than I'm doing things right," she said. "But I'm moving in the right direction, I think."