Knight and Dorothy Webster purchased Upland Hills Farm in 1959 with the help and investment of 20 families from the Oakland County area. The 400 acre property included 4 houses, 3 barns, several large sheds , a corn crib, and 3 silos. In the fifties the 240 acre parcel was used as dairy farm. In the thirties and forties both farms were part of the Wind Row Farms belonging to General Motors executive, C.E. Wilson. He raised prize Ayrshire cattle on the farms. The Webster's dream was to get away from the hustle and bustle of every day life and start a working educational recreational farm. The Webster's and their three young boys moved to the farm.
In the summer of 1960, the farm learning community hatches, evolves and lays into its own chick. The goal was to transform the 400 acres into a summer day camp, family camp, horseback riding stable and a hayride/sleighride business. The farm business grew slowly but by 1962 became a corporation which included 16 stockholders as well as the Webster family. The farm provided a riding stable, rented horses, rented a duplex on the property to Oakland University Coeds, hosted parties, hayrides, family camping, farm visits and school tours. Through the early years it was determined the hayrides and camp had become the most popular amenities.
By the summer of 1963, UHF had developed a clear and defined identity. It was growing and improving each year. It was a day camp with over 100 children coming from all over the metropolitan area. Each summer day campers would first do chores, then farm and camp activities and usually go swimming in the afternoon. UHF was also a hayride/sleighride party business. Every Friday night , Saturday day and night and Sunday, groups would ride-horse drawn wagons and sleighs. After the rides, partiers would square dance in the barn loft or sit around a campfire enjoying the evening. UHF was also a horseback riding stable, renting about a dozen horses to be ridden whenever customers arrived wanting to ride. It was a working farm with a herd of sheep, a half dozen milk cows, sows and piglets, goats with a towering goat walk, poultry yard, a dozen or more riding horses, four or five teams of draft horses, rabbits, a burro, peacocks, and many other small animals. Knight Webster raised small amounts of corn and grain that he harvested so that visitors could see how a farm might have worked 50 years ago. Oats, corn, wheat, sorghum, broom, corn, milk, sheep’s wool, and many other farms products were raised on the farm in order to be made into useful products so that customers could view and understand the farming process.
Teacher friends of the Webster Family wanted to bring their classes to the farm for visits. They were welcomed. From 1963 on school visits became one of the farm’s main businesses. In 1967, the traveling farm began to visit schools throughout the area from Flint to Detroit. By this time horseback riding and stalls had ceased as a farm business.
In the mid 60s a new barn was built on an old barn foundation. The new barn became the center of much of the farm business. Now each hayride party could have a spaghetti dinner as well as hayride and square dance. The barn had a large dinner room and up- and downstairs dance floor/party rooms and double-decker toilets built into old silos. The farm could and did handle 4 parties at one time. The office was moved to the new barn. A secretary was hired to answer the phone, business was expanding.
Two events in the 60s occurred that would profoundly affect the future of Upland Hills School. First, in January of 1964 the Webster's welcomed their fourth child a girl. Second, as the farm business grew and it was possible to hire someone to help run the business and relieve the Webster's of some business responsibilities.
In 1969 Chuck and Marcia Loznak were hired as farm managers. Chuck and Marcia were a multi-talented couple with many interests, three boys under the age of ten, and many friends and connections to Wayne State University.
Hiring Chuck and Marcia meant more free time to think about new projects for the farm. The Loznaks were thinkers and dreamers themselves. After much talking and meeting with groups of people, the concepts of Upland Hills Farm School evolved. Chuck and Marcia had friends in the Education Department at Wayne State. An education professor named Tom Hamill hired the first staff for the school. And, in September of 1971, Pam Webster, Robin, Nico, and Josef Loznak and about 30 other students began Upland Hills Farm School in the big party barn down on the farm. One of the dance party room spaces became their base of operation. The organization of the school was left up to the director, the Wayne State professor, Tom Hamill, and the teachers he had hired.
By September of 1971, the farm had more than a ten year history of visitors, of farm education, farm day camp, hayride and sleighrides, more than 100,000 visitors per year, interest in it from around the world, started a franchise farm 'Sugarbush Farms' outside of Ann Arbor, and a school in one of its barns. What’s next? What else could the Webster's dream up?
Upland Hills School had a forty-plus student body with an interested parent group, and a handful of teacher friends of Director Tom Hamill , the Wayne State education professor. Questions arose: Was there a curriculum? Were there classes? Was this education? Was it being directed? By February 1972 a parent of a student, Phil was hired as the new director. A parent meeting was called. At this meeting the future of the school was discussed. The parents were committed to the future. Several signed a note to allow the school to borrow enough money to buy two used portable classrooms, move and install the classrooms, and build the dome. The farm provided the property along Indian Lake Road and as much other support as it could. Marcia Loznak was hired a the school along with 2 other new staff members, these people would compose the staff at UHS for the next few years. They began the job of defining the school, its philosophy, its curriculum, and classes.
Steve Webster (Knight and Dorothy's Son) and Leslie also married in 1972. The Loznaks had decided to leave the farm manager position. Steve and Leslie were living on the farm and were more than ready to take on some of the work. They became the farmers in training.
The early seventies saw some changes in the existing business but the core components of school tours, day camp, mobile units, and Sunday visits remained the same. Hayrides parties declined due to competition. And lack of snow eliminated sleigh rides. New businesses were developed. The State of Michigan asked the farm to make a proposal to develop a working farm at Maybury State Park in Novi. There were proposals to the city of Troy and the Troy Parks and Recreation Department. There was a family and school camping/farm education program at Camp Tamarack in Ortonville. This camping program included individual families and schools and the Utica School District. School Director Phil was beginning to talk the idea of the Ecological Awareness Center.
In late 1973, the school was stable and growing. It attracted local, state, national, and international attention when National Geographic Scholastic Magazine published an article about the school’s building a wind power generating system.
In 1974, the Maybury State Park living farm proposal was accepted by the state. Bruce Webster and the rest of the farm went to work preparing to open this park in early summer 1976.
Nancy Fry, a 1974 Michigan State University graduate in park management and from a family whose children had spent many summers as farm camp counselors, hayride drivers, and other farm work, called the farm about a job. She and Bruce Webster would operate and manage the Maybury living farm. They would raise animals, grow a garden and some grain crops, and demonstrate farm practices such as, grinding grain, harvesting grain, driving horses, milking cows, doing chores and much more. They married in spring of 1976 and returned to run Maybury another summer.
Ken Webster taught sixth grade in Lake Orion, and then assisted in the camping education program at Camp Tamarack for a year, finally joining the staff of Upland Hills Farm School as a farmer teacher. Steve and Leslie continued to help run the farm. After the summer of 1976, the state started to operate Maybury Farms themselves. The farm also ended the franchise from Sugarbush Farms. The farm also survived a fire, losing their largest barn ( the one that had housed the school in the first year).
A farm was purchased near Brown City, Michigan, to be forever called the Brown City farm. Bruce and Nancy Webster would run the Brown City farm and raise organic chickens and beef. The Oxford farm would raise organic pigs and lamb. The job was huge. Organic awareness was only just beginning. Five thousand broiling chickens were raised each year. Organic feed was raised or purchased to feed the chickens. Hundreds of dozens of organic eggs were sold at Betty’s Grocery, local coops, and to individuals. Fifty head of beef were grass-fed on organically fertilized pasture land. The Oxford farm already had a large herd of sheep, so the farm sold organic lamb and goat. All the hay was raised organically at the Brown City farm. Feeder pigs were raised in a wood lot on Indian Lake Road between the farm and school. They foraged in the woods and their diet was supplemented with organic soybeans.
The Brown City farm lasted three years until 1980. The farm would later be sold: the organic food business ended. In 1980 Rich MacMath, Wayne Appleyard, and Phil Moore with help of many managed to build and open the Ecological Awareness Center. The center opened with a dedication by R. Buckminster Fuller. After a few years school enrollment increased and its community continued to grow, The school and EAC purchased its property from the farm.
In the meantime, the farm now had ten Webster's working on the Oxford farm. By this time Steve and Leslie had two young sons, Jason and Nic, and Bruce and Nancy had an even younger daughter Blythe and son, Ben. Farm business was fair even during recession times. A new business, the Pumpkin Fest, began in 1980. It proved to be great success. The first few years cars could back up a quarter mile down Lake George Road to get into the farm. Through the years, competition has thinned the crowds but the Pumpkin Festival continues to be an important part of the farm business.
In 1985, a program was developed with the Girl Scouts and proved very popular with many troops. Catered food parties were begun in an attempt to increase the hayride business. In 1986, a company picnic business began in the summer and proved very successful. Sunday visits were ended after more than Twenty years. Now Sundays could be used for more company picnics. A Christmas program was added, extending the farm season.
In 1989, after a 4 year hiatus from the Farm Steve and Leslie Webster returned. Leslie planted a million flowers all over the farm. Steve reorganized the financial structure of the business.
Dorothy Webster passed away in 1993. Knight Webster spends his summer at the farm and the winters in Mexico. Knight Webster passes away in 2002. Upland Hills Farm is passed down to Steve and Leslie Webster.
The farm has experienced several generations of change but it is still visited by thousands each year to see a cow milked or a sheep sheared. Steve and Leslie continue to run the farm with their trusted six managers, Casey, Samantha, Kristi, Andrew, Nate and Jake. Leslie still plants a million flowers and you can often catch Steve road grating in a tractor around the farm.
Thank you for visiting with us. We look forward to seeing you again in the coming years. We appreciate your continued support of our programs.
The Webster Family