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In 1986, there was no such thing as an “organic” product in the United States (at least not officially). The USDA certification didn’t become a reality until 1990—four years after Denver resident Lily Morgan began making her own chemical-free serum. Morgan drew on her family’s seven generations of farming experience to grow lavender, calendula, and roses for what would become the Centennial State’s first line of USDA-certified organic skincare products: Lily Farm Fresh Skin Care. Three decades later, customers can finally see inside the bottle at the company’s new headquarters and farm, which will open for tours and events later this month in Keenesburg, about 40 miles northeast of Denver. We sat down with the 59-year-old to talk chemicals, agritourism, and the challenges of being an organic pioneer.
5280: You were marketing organic before it was a thing. What kinds of challenges did you run into in those early years?
Lily Morgan: Apathy. No one cared. One of the greatest challenges was access to information. That is why there are millions of organic skincare companies now—it is so easy to find buyers, sellers, ingredients. Everything’s on the internet.
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You had a 15-acre farm in Henderson for 25 years. Why move now?
We know we have highly educated and sophisticated customers. I needed a way to engage more meaningfully with them; in-store demonstrations weren’t enough. I always wanted guests at my old farm, but it was run-down. [In our new glass-enclosed lab] they’ll be able to see the herbs being cleaned from the harvest, prepared, and mixed into lotions. We want to be an agritourism destination.
Is that why you built a 6,200-square-foot event center on a portion of your 80-acre plot?
Yes. We’ll host yoga retreats, herb walks, DIY classes, tai chi, meditation, and create our own events. My favorite is Girlfriends’ Day. Every Wednesday, between 2 and 7 p.m., you can pack your car with all your girlfriends and come up to Keenesburg for a free facial.
Your land is located right across the street from the Wild Animal Sanctuary. Was that intentional?
That was part of the allure of the property. The sanctuary will be a great partner in ensuring the land around us is protected and in working together on future events.
If you could tell consumers to avoid one ingredient in their cosmetics, what would it be?
Synthetic chemicals! Parabens that were thought to be safe for over 40 years are now deemed unsafe because researchers found a correlation between parabens and cancer. Most companies took them out, but some have replaced them with worse ingredients like diazolidinyl urea—an antimicrobial preservative that acts as a formaldehyde releaser [meaning it activates formaldehyde, a carcinogen that’s often used to preserve dead bodies]. When I used to ask companies about it, they would say, “We only use a very small percentage.” But formaldehyde is toxic at one part per million. We know lavender and chamomile will always be safe.