A Christmas Story: How Organ Mountain Started
Humbled. That’s what I tell people when they ask me about Organ Mountain. There are many blessings about our story, but it wouldn’t be a story if we didn’t talk about the journey. A journey that has taught us more in the moments of heartache and pain than we ever could imagine in those moments. In this holiday season, I reflect upon those stories that led to this one about Organ Mountain Outfitters. Here are a few snippets of how we got here today.
I was in 5th grade, and I sat at the desk drawing in my notepad. I had a pair of white sneakers that were too small for my growing feet. It was the first day of school, and everyone had on new, shirts, pants and shoes. Everyone was excited to see one another and proud to wear the latest and coolest gear. I sat at my desk drawing. My toes were sticking outside my shoes, and I was growing fast. The day before, my mother took me to Dollar General to buy some blue sweatpants and a yellow t-shirt that would be my outfit for the year. I would have to wear this outfit for the time being, and it was all I had. I wasn’t mad, but I was sad. I would also have hope and faith. I would draw the symbols of Nike, Adidas, and Reebok into my notebook and try to draw my logo that would someday grace my own clothing company. I would sketch shirts, pants, and shoes. In my heart, I hoped to help eventually, other kids like me. Kids who were from broken homes. Kids that were abused. Kids who had no electricity or running water. Kids whose parents couldn’t pay for their school lunches. I didn’t know how but I dreamed about someday.
I didn’t draw much after middle school. I was lost. A wanderer wondering where I would fit in. I loved sports, I loved music, I loved the arts, I loved film and in all this love I never truly fit in. School became boring to me as I saw what waited for me after graduation. Go to college and get a job. A career that would last a lifetime? That’s a little scary and unsettling for someone who didn’t even know who they were as a person yet. I never met my real father and while my mother tried her best we had this great divide between us with my step-father. So here I was in this circumstance-a cycle that would repeat itself if I wasn’t careful. How do you escape the cycle? You have to believe. You have to develop a self-worth. You have to take responsibility for where you are heading, as you grow up. As an adult, I would feel sorry for myself and wonder why everything was being done to me. Why didn’t we have a home? Why didn’t we have food? Why didn’t we have a loving family? Why God, why?
It took a while. It took some time. It took me going to six different colleges. It took me finding a woman from Las Cruces to provide me with a love I never had. She taught me about family, traditions (which I loathed - because I didn’t have any), and stability. She has provided a safe and beautiful home for our two little children. She has been my mountain of faith and love. She was born and raised in Las Cruces. Her father and mother were small business owners that served our community for over 30 years, and it would be from them where I would learn the traits to help me start Organ Mountain. Her father, Mark Stansell, didn’t try to ever be my lost father but he showed me how to take care of his daughter and a family. He showed me how to be consistent in our work. He showed me how to value everyone around us. He taught me stability.
We lost Mark, last July to cancer. The same month we set up our first booth at the Farmers Market in 2016. When we found out he had prostate cancer in late 2015, we didn’t know it would be as progressive as it was. It’s tough losing a parent. I had lost my mother and step-father five years ago, and it was the hardest thing I ever went through. It was a chapter in my life that came to a close. It was hard. I didn’t understand why I had to lose my mother. I wanted more time with her. A time to connect and hug. A time for her to spend with her grandchildren. I wanted that lost time given back to me. It’s so hard losing someone. My father-in-law and mother-in-law, Cynthia Stansell, were there for me in those tough times. They were my family. They taught me so much. Now my father-in-law had moved in with us and was dying of cancer. We all thought he would get better. We hoped he would beat cancer. He was the family’s rock. He was the man of our hearts. It’s tough to type these words. I knew I had to do something. My wife would no longer have her father to lean on, and I was still struggling myself to find myself in work. I had been running a semi-successful creative agency, but I didn’t have any experience, and I found myself making a mistake after mistake from a business standpoint. I had to step back and look around me. Look back at my experiences. If I had to start one company now that I truly loved and would be insanely passionate about, what would it be?
I wanted to work outdoors. I wanted to spend time with my family outdoors. Growing up in Northeast Oklahoma in Native American Territory of the Ozarks was where I found my peace. It was running through the creeks, bluffs, and hills where I could escape it all. I enjoyed nature; I enjoyed being outside. Honestly spending my time outdoors from sun up until sun down was how God saved me. He gave me a path all along, but I wasn’t listening. I wasn’t paying attention because I was feeling sorry for myself. Look at the time spent outdoors. Look at how hard your beautiful mother tried to bring her community together. Look at your father-in-law and how he grew businesses and his family. Look at your community. Look around and see the beauty in the mountains. They are calling.
This Christmas Day I’m thankful for what Organ Mountain Outfitters has been able to achieve with bringing our community together, giving back to the students on reduced lunch programs at the Las Cruces Public Schools, and inspiring New Mexicans to enjoy our public lands. So when people ask me, and I say I’m humbled, this is why. It’s not perfect, and it has taken a lot of unexpected pain and heartache to be here today. I’m grateful. I’m thankful for you and your support, and I understand the responsibility we have to grow this little brand that started off with a booth at the Las Cruces Farmers Market. We want to be a brand that proudly represents the southwest. We want to be a brand that draws attention to and inspiration from each diverse culture in our region. We want to be a brand that brings the community together. We want to be a brand that gives back to our children. We want to be a brand that inspires people to spend time outside.
A reporter asked me what we were doing differently to market the region that people are falling in love with. I said that we are doing nothing different. All we are doing is telling stories of the people that have been here for generations. We are just showcasing the values of our community. Hard work. Family. Giving back. That’s all. We have a responsibility to the generations that came before us to continue their story. A story about a mountain and the community that lives in the valley.