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The Story Behind Studio Hill’s Expansion! New Land, New Farm Stays!

Hello! Be warned: I’m writing this post while full of hope, sadness, reflection, and too much coffee. Stick with me. In the end, it’s energizing.

The story of Studio Hill’s expansion is also a family story. The two stories are intertwined.

As some of you know, my older brother Jamie died of cancer in May—leaving behind his wonderful wife and three young children. Much of my time this year was spent away from the farm, helping him and his family in his final months. Those days are terrible times I will treasure forever—not only because they were the last moments I had with my brother, but because our family and community wrapped their arms around us and carried us through. The love and support we needed so desperately was given in abundance. Food, phone calls, visits, airfare, and hugs were all given freely. And the GoFundMe campaign we started for him (after he was furloughed and left without a paycheck mid-cancer treatments) soared with donations pouring in from around the globe. It was a bright silver lining for him in his final days, and I will always be grateful for that.

Jamie and Alex tossing hay on the farm in 2012.

Without darkness, there cannot be light.

In the early spring, while I happened to be back at the farm for a week, our neighbor of 20 years called me up. He wanted to meet.

We took a walk out to the sheep, through the new grass in the fields, and he told me that he was selling his home—the big house that sits above our family farm. He wanted to know if we’d be interested.

Of course we were interested, but—with our already-taxed schedules, budgets, and me being away so much—I thought it was just as possible for us to buy the moon. Still, I said yes. After all, it was a lifetime goal of mine to somehow purchase that house and the 50 acres on which it sits. My neighbor graciously gave me 30 days to submit a qualified offer, before he listed the property on the market.

The house on the hilltop above our family farm.

A few days later, back at my brother’s, while sitting at a folding table in my niece’s bedroom—surrounded by unicorns and rainbows—I put together a business plan to expand Studio Hill and purchase the house and land on the hilltop. In the coming week, I shopped the business plan around to every bank that would listen. I flew home from my brother’s to take tours of the property with bankers. The bankers were excited, encouraging, and vocally supportive. “This is great. It is sure to succeed!”

But, after much stalling on their part, with a mere four days before my neighbor’s deadline, all the banks said no. “Our underwriters won’t support it.” It was disappointing, but not entirely unexpected.

With no other options in sight, I sat at my desk, stared at my dirty keyboard, and resigned myself to let the deal go.

Then the universe stepped in. That night, I got a text message from a beloved cousin who knew nothing of the project: “Hey. I just heard of a company that makes capital available to regenerative farms. Wanna talk to them? They’re called Steward.”

I sent the business plan off to a company I’d never heard of. They replied right away. “It’d be the biggest campaign we’ve ever done, but it’s awesome. Let’s try.”

My lifelong dream—and my one chance to expand the family farm—was alive. We got to work immediately and I spent the next few weeks—while traveling back and forth to my brother’s—working with Steward to review and refine the plan with their accountants, lawyers, and underwriters. It was a rigorous process, but one I enjoyed. Everyone at Steward was working hard to make sure Cally and I would succeed. 

One midnight in May, Jamie passed.

Me and Jamie, circa 1980

Four weeks after his death, we purchased the property. Though heartbroken and struggling to see the world clearly, I understood that—amid the chaos of the last few months—we’d done something incredible. This purchase secured more than just property. We had protected the family farm. We saved abutting land from possible development. We had protected the farming culture of the hill. We had given our kids a generational gift. We had taken a BIG CHANCE and it paid off. Steward made that possible with a bridge loan.

In the moments after we’d heard the deal was done—while crying with gratitude for Steward’s help making a dream come true—Cally and I recommitted ourselves to the mission of Studio Hill: to bring as much life to the world as possible.

We’re still grieving the loss of Jamie—and the loss of my younger brother, Alex, in 2018. They were my incredible brothers and friends. I am heavy with hurt and still feel unwhole. But, in the daylight, I find the pain energizing. From death, springs life. We will all die. And the work we do in this world will outlast us all—so the work had better be good.

Cally and I stand on the shoulders of giants. We work hard. We love each other. And we’re grateful for the thrill in our successes and the lessons in our failures. But we cannot, and do not, do this work alone. We are aware, every day, that we’re surrounded by a tremendous community that supports us and each of its members.

We’re grateful for you.

Today marks the “public launch” of our lending campaign with Steward. It is a big day in a big story. We are now opening up this campaign to our community. To you. We would love your participation by lending support to our project—large or small. You can help make this a success. 

To learn more, see our Steward Project Page. Please join the team and support the growth and mission of Studio Hill.

There are great things ahead. Come see.