Patti Bess: Just a stone’s throw |

Patti Bess: Just a stone’s throw

Teacher Richard Marks, looks on as Clayton O'Leary and Joey Goldsmith learn to turn the new additions to the worm bin for the Colfax Elementary Garden Project.
Photo by Patti Bess

When Steven and Bryanna Eisenhut married they were working jobs they didn’t particularly like. They soon realized that what they both wanted and made sense for their lives was farming.

Bryanna grew up in Colfax and that’s where they began to look for land and a house they might be able to afford. Call it what you will—good karma, the power of love and focus, the hand of God, or just plain good luck– they fell in love with the first farm they saw. A beautiful, south-facing knoll top with 500 acres and two houses. A creek running through it, and the Boardman Canal from Dutch Flat nearby. But it was priced way over their heads. Steven and Bryanna decided, “what the heck, we’ll make an offer.”

They offered $2 million less than the asking price. As one might expect, the owners didn’t accept. For the next year the Eisenhuts kept looking for other possibilities all over Northern California foothills and valleys, but their hearts were sold on the farm in Colfax.

Steven’s family has farmed for three generations. His parents, John and Cynthia, were toying with the idea of retiring from their almond ranch. When they saw the farm in Colfax, it began to make sense as their next step in life. They sold their ranch and made an offer along with Bryanna and Steven. The farm was theirs.

Now there are two Eisenhut grandchildren. “We couldn’t possibly do this without Steven’s parents to back us up with child care. This is such a magical place for our kids to grow up and for us to share family,” Bryanna commented. This is the third year of production for Stone’s Throw. They have experimented with what crops do best in the microclimate of this hilltop land, but it was a constant learning process the first years. This winter they planted more greens, broccolini, and carrots. Three Forks restaurant in Nevada City and The Watershed in downtown Grass Valley have become two of their best customers. They also have contracts with the Tahoe Food Hub and Sacramento Natural Foods. Farmer’s Markets have to wait until their young family is a little older.

As it turns out, the farm is just a stone’s throw from Colfax Elementary School. Originally this was a thousand acre farm that included the land that both Colfax Elementary and the high school are currently on.

The last period of the day at Colfax Elementary offers an enrichment program where the children can choose something they would like to learn more about—art, music, gardening and others. Richard Marks who lives in Chicago Park taught at the school for many years. He volunteers as the garden enrichment teacher. Mr. Marks is currently working with his kids on maintaining a worm bed and studying soil microbes and how they enrich the soil (making for sweeter carrots, etc). They are also learning to build hoop houses for extending their growing season.

Last fall the gardening class planted Brussel sprouts, kale, carrots, parsley and others in their fenced garden beds. The children did tastings of various foods and made kale chips to eat. Several docents also volunteer to maintain and water the gardens.

Mr. Marks and the school principal, John Baggett, took the gardening class on a walking field trip to the farm last week. They are looking into more ways that the school and the farm can interact and exchange experiences for the children. One plan is the possibility of the class taking the cafeteria’s vegetable waste to the farm where the kids can experience the formation of compost. Several high school art and photography students have already used the land for their projects.

“We have several plans in the making for creating meaningful and practical exchanges between the school and farm. It will be a great benefit to both,” Marks commented.

This recipe is a tasty way to add (sneak) more broccoli to childrens’ diets. The proportions are not set in stone. Make it your own. It is an easy, last minute dinner. The most important part is skimming off some of the top flowerets, the “bugs” to float in the soup.

Bug Soup

2 large or 3 medium stalks broccoli

1 medium onion, chopped

2 medium potatoes, scrubbed and cut into thirds

2 cloves garlic

About 4 to 5 cups water or broth

1 tablespoon miso (optional)

Salt and pepper to taste

Grated sharp cheddar cheese to taste

Take a small knife and skim off the tops of broccoli florets; set aside. Chop broccoli apart into medium pieces. Stems can also be used but it might be best to peel them.

Add the cut up onions, potatoes, garlic, miso, salt and pepper to the water. Simmer in a soup stock pot. Add the broccoli during the last few minutes when potatoes and onions are nearly cooked.

Blend the soup with a potato masher or hand held blender. Stir in the grated cheddar cheese. Rewarm until melted. Add the raw tops of the broccoli flowerets, the bugs, before serving.

Patti Bess is a freelance writer and cookbook author from Grass Valley. She can be reached at

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