By Michelle Willard | Photos Courtesy Half Hill Farm
When Christian Grantham returned to Middle Tennessee from Washington D.C. with his husband Vince Oropesa, he wasn’t sure what to expect.
It only took a year for his home state to tell him how it viewed his marriage when voters overwhelmingly approved a ban on gay marriage.
“After that, I worked purposefully to protect myself and my family,” Grantham said about what led him to found Half Hill Farm with Oropesa in 2012.
He said the vote made him look at his life and it awaked his entrepreneurial spirit. He decide he wanted to create a life that would insulate his family from the whims of a bigoted electorate.
“Now I am serving others and serving people and doing it well,” Grantham said. “That can actually sustain me if that is the center of everything.”
In the years since, Grantham and Oropesa have created a mushroom extract and kombucha organic empire in Woodbury, Tenn.
Grantham had tried other business models in the past that were solely focused on making money. But with his venture Half Hill Farm, he wanted to do something more, something that helped other people.
Customer Thea Prince is one of those who have developed a trusting relationship with Grantham and Oropesa. Prince came in the store on a Sunday afternoon to ask about how CBD oil, which is extracted from hemp, might affect her husband Joe’s Parkinson’s Disease.
Despite the fact it was Sunday, and the store was closed, and he was in the middle of making tea for the couple’s next batch of kombucha, Grantham spoke with Prince for half an hour about how the oil is taken, what amount would be best and whether the hemp extract is legal.
Her husband Joe wants to relieve the symptoms of his Parkinson’s Disease and reduce the amount of medications he is on, Prince explained, adding her husband was a Marine during Vietnam.
“Since he is a Marine, he doesn’t give up,” she said.
When she said she trusts Grantham and Oropesa to help her find the right nutritional supplements for her health and the health of her husband, Grantham smiled with pride.
“I’m doing this to help people. That’s what our business is about,” he said.
Not work, a mission
After working as a political consultant in and around Washington D.C. for about a decade, Grantham relocated with Oropesa to Middle Tennessee in 2006.
In the middle of the Great Recession, Grantham decided to make a career change. He was working for a broadcast news station in Nashville in 2010 but quit his stable job to travel the state working as a freelance storyteller, which introduced him to the man behind Short Mountain Distillery, Billy Kaufman.
“I found artists who were successful because of their passion and their love of what they did. I found people with values,” he said. “It brought me to Cannon County and I met Billy. He wanted to do that with moonshine.”
Grantham joined forces with Kaufman to change state and county law to allow alcohol manufacturing in Cannon County. He gave up life on the road and took a job as chief operating officer from Short Mountain Distillery in Woodbury.
A few years later, he and Oropesa bought a small farm, literally on half a hill, outside of Woodbury and moved in to start working on their business.
The success of Half Hill Farm didn’t come without heartache.
“It was a disaster for two years,” Grantham said.
After moving to the farm, Grantham realized they couldn’t make it on vegetables alone. They would have to find a way to add value to their products.
First, he and Oropesa worked to get the farm certified organic.
He recalled growing organic vegetables for Woodbury’s Saturday Farmers’ Market and tearful times on the hillside, wondering if he had done the right thing, giving up everything and moving to the country.
Grantham said he found the spark he saw in the artists he profiled after Oropesa got devastating news; his mother had stage 4 lung cancer. The doctors told them there was no cure but chemotherapy could extend her life.
Natural treatments for ailments
About the time they got the bad news, a friend came to visit the farm and discovered something that would change the direction of Grantham and Oropesa’s lives, wild turkey tail mushrooms.
Turkey tail mushrooms grow wild in Tennessee forests and the fungus has been brewed as a tea in China for centuries to help boost immune systems.
Grantham learned how the extract from the mushrooms could help Oropesa’s mother, who started taking it along with her chemo treatments.
“It helped keep her general health good, she didn’t lose weight, she kept her hair,” Oropesa said, adding she tolerated the chemo better than the other patients he saw in the oncologist’s office.
“It eased her pain,” Oropesa said. “It’s still hard to think about because the end result is she’s not here. But I do find comfort in that.”
Now, the couple produces extracts from turkey tail, red reishi, chaga and lion’s mane mushrooms for customers through their online store .
“Those ship all over the United States from Woodbury,” Grantham said.
They have also expanded into kombucha. In January 2016, Grantham and Oropesa teamed up with fellow Woodbury makers, Short Mountain Cultures and started an organic kombucha brewery in The Kitchen at the Arts Center of Cannon County.
Kombucha is sweet tea fermented with special yeast and probiotics into a carbonated beverage often flavored with fruits, vegetables, roots or herbs.
“We are lifting up the food and beverage culture in Cannon County,” Grantham said.
Their first year in the Arts Center of Cannon County has been a resounding success. They have run out of production space for their kombucha and are looking for a larger facility or land to build on, as well as hiring on workers.
“It’s hard work but work is what it takes to be successful,” Grantham said.
Oropesa was recently able to quit his job in IT to focus on the family business.
Two of their kombucha flavors are also on tap at The Turnip Truck in Nashville. Grantham said the Gulch grocery has even taken beer off tap to replace with Half Hill Farm kombucha.
“When you are pursuing your values, you wonder if anyone cares. They do,” Grantham said.
Now they are committed to the health of their community and the health of their customers.
More info …
Half Hill Farm
1424 John Bragg Hwy., Woodbury