Meet a Farmer: Bryanna Eisenhut of Stones Throw Farm
It’s all about family, community and sustainable farming for this Colfax, California organic vegetable and flower farm. Stones Throw Farm is owned and managed by married couple Bryanna and Steve Eisenhut who’s love for digging trenches over office work led them to leave their careers in the city behind in exchange for a life more in-tuned with nature on the farm. We spent a few minutes with Bryanna who shared their unconventional path into farming.
GROWN: What are you doing today?
Bryanna: Today I am seeding flowers, starting sprout seeds, and I am going to direct seed flowers, radishes and turnips.
CA GROWN: What is your favorite thing about farming?
Bryanna: I love that it requires and indulges being really attentive to the season changes: to our tiny microclimate, to incoming weather. We have to anticipate how cold is it going to be and are we going to have to protect our plants against the cold? It really engages us in our surroundings. We have a 3 ½ year old and a 2-year-old and they are always looking at blue birds, flowers blooming, and leaves changing. It is very satisfying to have them be able to observe nature so closely. Farming is also stressful because of things like the wind being harmful on our hoop houses, and with the snow, we worry about losing our crops. The seasons and changing weather can be both wonderful and stressful but is it such a delight to live here on the farm.
Steven and I both grew up on a farm. We both lived in cities for quite some time as adults. It feels like such a gift as a parent to be on the farm with our small children.
CA GROWN: How do you give back to the community?
Bryanna: Last year we had an opportunity to work with our county on a federally funded project for a mental health program called Health 360 for adult mental health clients. They have a garden project and we were able to donate plants and seeds along with my expertise to help them learn how to grow and harvest what they plant. The produce that they harvest is then donated to other mental health clients. It means a lot to have my hands in the soil and to be able to donate my time and supplies to something I really believe in.
This year I am taking on a self-imposed plastic challenge. My goal is to reduce our plastics use by 30 percent this year. As part of a more global effort, we are taking on the marketing and system challenges to reduce our plastic footprint.
CA GROWN: What drew you into the farming profession?
Bryanna: My husband grew up in the central valley into an almond farming family. He had some encouragement from family to pursue other careers, so he studied law. He realized that wasn’t going to work for him because he felt like he really needed to be outside. I am outdoorsy, I love being outside and getting my hands in the dirt. It gets me feeling alive. Growing up on a farm myself as a kid, the farming life was very meaningful for me.
My husband and I were introduced by a mutual friend, I worked in the mental health industry and after work I just really wanted to go home and dig a trench, and work in the soil. My husband was working for a lawyer and considering law school and yet was feeling the same way. He also wanted to dig trenches instead of working in a law library. We realized together we could make it happen. We went for it with tiny babies and in our thirties. We could be together raising our family the way we wanted to and could engage in the production of our food. Loving each other and falling in love drove us to farming.
Steven entered the Santa Cruz farm program and interned with another farm. I was wrapping up my job and we started looking for a farm. We were working with some friends on a small farming deal and from there it just took off. It felt serendipitous and has been an amazing time.
CA GROWN: What are your hobbies or past times when you are not farming?
Bryanna: One of the things that is important to both my husband and me is physical fitness. We make it a priority to go to the gym together. We had some injuries last season, so we are committed to staying healthy. My oldest son is into trains, so we read about and build trains, and we make it our family adventure to visit train museums.
Because we are new in farming, and it’s such an engrossing path, we spend much of our time learning about farming. Reading, visiting farm friends, and we are both taking courses in farming. Being a new farmer is like drinking from a fire hose, there is so much information to absorb. It’s such a multifaceted business. There is so much to know and learn.
CA GROWN: What advice would you give to someone who wants to get into farming?
Bryanna: One of the things that we did that has been infinitely beneficial to us is to connect to as many farms near us as we could. We cold called people to see if they would talk to us about Certified organic farming. We connected with our local ag extension. Our first year, I think I asked a farmer near us a question a day for like 4 months. There are so many weird things that you can’t google or find in a book.
Building a community is so important. You can lose touch with your need to get off the farm. Going to a pot luck, where there are 15 other farmers is a valuable networking tool. If I need compost, there are three other farmers who will go in with us thereby getting better pricing. I would encourage new farmers to work with what you have. Don’t over invest with a huge infrastructure. We are glad we didn’t go all in on a certain system for a certain crop that we aren’t even growing any more. Just get boot-strappy with what you have. The initial investment can be expensive if you get carried away. The farm we bought had animal pens and we have used them for multiple purposes.
Being flexible with what you have on-hand is very important. Number one for me is the community because we’ve gotten so much advice. Knowing people’s experience is invaluable. People will always show up when you need help.
CA GROWN: What are one or two things you do on the farm to be sustainable?
Bryanna: We are moving into low-till operation. For sustainability in a macro sense, carbon sequestration in the soil, soil management in the field with our bugs and critters. We are organic, we don’t spray. We build in habitat areas for our bugs and our birds and our pollinators. For our own business, being very money smart. And really taking care of ourselves. Burnout is real when you are doing so much manual labor.
Plastics has been on my mind, and so much of farming is hoop housing. It’s a big one for me. Trying to build a business that is doing the right thing even if we are not growing profitably as fast as we might. Otherwise. Doing the right thing by our farm, our family, and our critters is important and that means growing slower and more thoughtfully. I think and hope that it translates to our customers soon, as we faced more and more fires and devastation. It fills my spirit knowing that we made the right decisions for the environment even when it may not be the most profitable decisions.