Sisters Grow Agricultural Roots
Sisters Holly, left, and Hannah Johnson took over their father's alfalfa farm and have added fresh eggs under the label "Just Got Laid." They are shown on the farm in Laton, California, on May 15, 2013. (Eric Paul Zamora/Fresno Bee/MCT)
Sisters Hannah, left, and Holly Johnson took over their father's alfalfa farm and have added fresh eggs under the label "Just Got Laid." They are shown on the farm in Laton, California, on May 15, 2013. (Eric Paul Zamora/Fresno Bee/MCT)
Fresno, Calif. — Sisters Hannah and Holly Johnson didn’t plan on being farmers, at least not now.
More than a year ago, Hannah was consumed with her marketing career and Holly was fulfilling some wanderlust, traveling across the country in her Chevy truck.
But life threw them a curve and the Johnsons’ lives veered in a new direction when they relocated to Laton, Calif., to care for their ailing 84-year-old father and his 50-acre alfalfa farm.
The fact that neither knew anything about growing alfalfa — or even had an inkling that they would add “farm fresh egg producers” to their résumés — didn’t faze them.
Then again, nothing seems to faze these close-knit sisters.
Over the last year, they have dealt with broken farm equipment, wind-damaged crops and sleepless nights, waking every four hours to water the fields.
Today, the alfalfa farm is supplying feed for area dairy farmers and their River Roots egg operation — which began as a whim — is quickly gaining followers. The brown-shelled farm fresh eggs are sold under the cheeky “Just Got Laid” label.
“They are doing a heck of a job farming and taking care of me,” said Bob Johnson, a longtime alfalfa farmer and father of Holly, 22, and Hannah, 25. “I could not be more proud of them.”
The Johnsons make no bones about being rookie farmers or having been raised in Fresno, Calif. But they also aren’t completely lacking in a farming pedigree. Growing up, they lived with their mother in the city during the week and spent time with their father in Laton on most weekends.
Trips to the farm were anything but boring for two precocious city girls. The ranch borders the Kings River. The thick brush and wild berry bushes created plenty of hiding places and room for forts.
When they were kids, their dad gave them each their own golf cart, mounting wood blocks on the pedals so they could drive them. Holly spray painted hers to look like a cow and named it Bessie.
“I think we crashed those carts at least once a week,” Hannah said.
It was the love of that farm, and their father’s health, that drove the sisters to Laton, even if it wasn’t what they planned.
Holly, a free spirit, was two months into a cross-country journey when her father became ill from an infected black widow bite. Although she had worked two jobs to raise money to pay for the trip, she drove straight to Laton after she got the news.
“I looked like death getting out of that truck,” she said. “But I unpacked, looked around and took a deep breath.”
Holly moved into a tiny one-bedroom guest house on the farm. Resourceful by nature, she spent the first few weeks making the house livable. She could swing a hammer — but she knew very little about alfalfa farming.
A family friend and neighbors helped her plant her first field of alfalfa. But she was responsible for the rest, including the sleep-depriving, around-the-clock irrigation schedule.
Nothing seemed easy. Much of the farm equipment was in need of repair.
“Pipes, tools, tractors weren’t working,” Holly recalls. “Everything was breaking.”
But Holly, along with Hannah’s support, made do with what she had. Six months after Holly moved to the ranch, Hannah left her apartment in Fresno and joined her sister, sharing the small ranch house.
“I knew Holly needed help, and I needed a break from living in the city,” Hannah said. “I was working like a psychotic person, way too many hours, and I just needed some space.”
The two sisters spent many nights sitting on their patio with its mismatched chairs and rustic farm table. They talked about the future and doing more with the farm.
Soon, the talk turned to farm animals and before Hannah knew it, Holly bought eight chickens off of Craigslist, naming them after the cast of the television show Friends , and Willie Nelson.
Holly built a coop out of scrap wood and pallets they found laying around the ranch.
“This is what we do, we make snap decisions and jump in with both feet,” Hannah said.