By Selena Haynes | Photo Courtesy Half Hill Farm
Christian Grantham and Vince Oropesa are partners in business and in life. The duo relocated to Woodbury, Tennessee in 2012 and since then have become a fixture in the local community. Grantham was given the opportunity to run Short Mountain Distillery. Two years prior, he ran a referendum to change county law to build the distillery and then worked as the Chief Operating Officer (COO) to build and open the distillery in March 2012. At the same time, he and his husband fell in love with their seven-acre farm and the idea of starting a business.
“I left the distillery and became a farmer while Vince kept his job,” states Grantham. “We literally used an hour a day to slowly set up our farm while we both worked day jobs.”
Half Hill Farm was the first certified organic grower of industrial hemp in Tennessee. They joined the state’s first pilot program intending to make high-quality Cannabidiol (CBD), but the state was more focused at the time on seed and fiber uses and would not allow them to grow varieties they wanted. “We left the program, but helped change the law and prepared to work on the manufacturing side making CBD products. We made the decision early to become certified organic, but the real distinction between our farm and others were value-added products we made that would soon launch our business beyond our expectations.”
Born out of a family member’s illness, the farm’s first successful product was mushroom extract. When Vince’s mom was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer, it rocked the couple’s world. What they didn’t expect was how many people across the country were educated on mushroom extracts.
“The product exploded, and it quickly showed me the real purpose for our farm and our business. It wasn’t vegetables or agricultural commodities. It was listening humbly to the land and customers and making natural, healing, value-added products.”
With the success of the mushroom extracts, they needed a Federal Drug Administration (FDA) registered and inspected manufacturing kitchen. They rented the county’s art center kitchen for three years developing many more natural and functional healing foods and beverages like kombucha, apple cider vinegar tonics, and various tinctures including CBD hemp oils. “People use CBD hemp oil for natural relief from pain, inflammation, anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, insomnia and symptoms associated with many diseases. Our product is available at our stores and several stores in the Middle Tennessee area.”
During that time, Vince quit his job and joined Christian full time. “It was a real dream come true to be independent and especially together doing something that brought purpose and meaning into our life. We started outgrowing the art center space earlier this year. We expanded with the purchase of a building in Bell Buckle in February and the launch of a second store we called the Wellness Emporium of Bell Buckle.”
They brought on a partner and expanded their manufacturing and retail in Woodbury, buying a larger building and opening a new retail store, the Wellness Emporium of Woodbury.
Half Hill Farm currently makes several organic and seasonal flavors of kombucha and kefir. Kombucha is a fermented black tea lightly flavored with organic juices and herbs. Kefir is a lacto-ferment similarly flavored. Both are kegged and bottled at the Woodbury facility and is currently on tap at the Turnip Truck on Woodland Street and at the stores in Woodbury and Bell Buckle. They also plan to distribute bottles to stores across the state.
“We are small but very proud of our diversity and the strength it gives our team. We are only six people, but we are gay, lesbian, straight, white, black, Latino, male, female, Democrats and Republicans. When you choose to start a business in a small town, you have to learn how to work with others, and Woodbury is a very unique town in Tennessee with one of the nation’s largest and oldest queer intentional communities located on Short Mountain right beside a historic Bible camp. We are a community that respects our differences.”
In the new year, customers will start to see the brand of functional foods and beverages a lot more thanks to expansion. “We are setting up CO2 extraction to become more vertically integrated with local sourcing of hemp and other herbals. In 2019, our company will have been in business for seven years. I can’t believe how far we’ve come already, but I’m hoping with a few more hires to find the time and space to be more present with our civic responsibility to all the communities our growing family represents.”