“When you get the the end of the road, keep going.” I scribble the directions on the back of a receipt, cell phone wedged against my shoulder. I am scheduled to visit Stone Hollow Farmstead in Harpersville, Alabama, the next day, and Deborah Stone, the owner, knows that GPS will steer me wrong. Sure enough, when the long country road abruptly ends, I keep driving, barreling over the red dirt.
Outside the main barn, four Great Pyrenees lumber out to greet me, like friendly polar bears lost in central Alabama. Deborah and her daughter, Alexandra, come out as well, with a cat trailing behind. We are meeting to discuss Botaniko, the plant-based skin care line that the mother-daughter duo produces on the property.
The farm’s 80 raised beds of flowers and herbs are the crux of the operation, so we hop in a golf cart to take a tour. The setting is bucolic to the point of disbelief. Sheep graze on the hillside, cows chew grass in the pasture, horses gather near a lake. “Oh, look, a new baby goat—how exciting!” exclaims Alexandra as we round a corner to see a mother goat and her kid. “Was it born a few days ago?” I ask. “A few minutes ago,” says Alexandra with a laugh.
This heightened sense of vitality on display at Stone Hollow (which also operates a crackerjack creamery, cannery, and Community Supported Agriculture program) is central to the philosophy behind Botaniko, which aims to harness what the Stones call the “power of the plant” with the best science in skin care. The line is small-batch, meaning it is handmade, hand-poured, and hand-distilled on the property. In other words: fresh, clean, and healthy.
Deborah began her career as an aesthetician, opening one of the country’s first day spas in 1989, which gave her exposure to the best treatments and product lines. After selling her business, she bought the farm, wanting a place for Alexandra to ride horses and a place to grow herbs to make her own products. “I tell everybody I grew up at the right time,” she says. “Having prior knowledge from the day spa and working with the best of the best, like Trish McEvoy, made me feel like this was my destiny.”
Scenes from Stone Hollow Farmstead and Botaniko
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Even with her professional advantage, starting a line from scratch wasn’t easy. It took years to get the formulas right. “At first when I was working with chemists, I didn’t like the answers I was getting,” recalls Deborah, who says they seemed more concerned with cost than quality. “I came home from these meetings in New York and California completely frustrated. The chemists were telling me to do it differently, but I said I’m going to make what I want to make.” What she wanted to make was products derived from herbs and flowers grown from organic seeds planted on her own property. “I was figuring it out on the fly,” she says. “Thank God for Google! I melted mixtures in the microwave. I bet I threw out 50 gallons before I got a certain product right.”
“The beauty is, Mom,” interjects Alexandra, “you’re not afraid to ask questions. You’ve never been inhibited in that way.”
Since the line debuted in 2003, it has grown to 180 products and attracted a clientele who see quick results and lasting value in its creams, cleansers, and essential oils. “There are no fillers, no synthetics in our products. There isn’t even water,” says Deborah. “We replace water with hydrosol—a living water we distill from herbs and flowers. That’s what makes our solutions so powerful.”
Relying on botanicals to heal, restore, and revive is an age-old practice, but new appreciation of small-batch artisans and a yearning for natural products make the Stones feel that Botaniko’s moment is especially ripe. “Now is the time,” says Deborah.
With a sprawling farm and a burgeoning skin care line, Deborah and Alexandra seem poised to embrace the future. “We complement each other,” says Deborah. “Alex is a little more subdued; she helps me stay grounded. She listens, then processes, then comes back with a plan. I’m more of an “Oh, let’s forget the plan” kind of person. I break a lot of stuff before I get things right.”
Together, with talent, brains, and a farm’s worth of goodness to pour into each bottle, the Stone women forge ahead. Like a driver in uncharted territory, when the paved road ends they step on the gas and keep going.
By Kirk Reed Forrester | Photography by David Hillegas