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YF&R: Winemaker advocates for agriculture in urban county

Issue Date: April 7, 2021
By Kevin Hecteman
Alysha Stehly serves as winemaker for the winery she and her husband founded, as well as for a label started by her parents. She also takes an active role in promoting locally grown food in San Diego County.

Being active in agriculture comes naturally to Alysha Stehly.

She grew up in a farming family and is a Young Farmers and Ranchers Discussion Meet veteran who makes wine with her husband and for her parents' label. She also helps promote San Diego County agriculture through various community initiatives and Farm Bureau, including serving on the San Diego County Farm Bureau Board of Directors and chairing the county YF&R committee.

Stehly's work was recognized with the Excellence in Agriculture Award at the102nd California Farm Bureau Annual Meeting. The award is presented to a Young Farmers and Ranchers member who contributes through involvement in agriculture, leadership and Farm Bureau.

Stehly's vino venture began when she was deciding on a collegiate major.

"When I was looking to go to college, I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do," she said. "I loved art and I love science and I love agriculture."

The search led her to enology.

"'This winemaking thing looks cool—it covers all the bases,'" she remembers thinking. "I absolutely fell in love with it."

Stehly attended the University of California, Davis, which she chose for two reasons: "partially the winemaking program and partially just being a small-town kid going to a college," she said. "The college town of Davis just really appealed to me, and the agricultural roots and history of Davis."

After graduating, she worked one harvest in Sonoma County, then headed home to Valley Center. Her then-boyfriend, now husband, Chris Broomell, was starting a winery for his family, "and we started making a couple barrels of wine for ourselves," she said. "That's how we started Vesper, which is our winery."

Then her father, Al—a San Diego County farmer and California Farm Bureau board member—decided to plant a vineyard of his own and asked his daughter to make some wine for him.

"That was the start of Stehleon, which is my dad's wine label," Alysha Stehly said. "I'm the winemaker for that."

Being a winemaker brings Stehly into contact with wine lovers, something she enjoys.

"It's fun to see the customers enjoy our final product," she said. "Growing up in a citrus and avocado family, we always just sent the fruit off to a packinghouse. You never met the end consumer. With winemaking, we're standing there pouring it for them. It's fun to see people actually enjoy the fruits of our labor."

Stehly jumped into the Discussion Meet while serving on the state YF&R committee.

"I've grown up going to Annual Meetings since I was like 7 years old," she said. "It wasn't anything new to me."

That led to appearances in the state finals at the 2018 and 2019 Annual Meetings.

"I really enjoyed being part of Discussion Meet every year and seeing the different perspectives that we all brought to the table on the different issues," Stehly said.

The Excellence in Agriculture Award holds a lot of meaning for her.

"It's an honor to be recognized," she said. "A lot of us who are involved in YF&R are involved because we enjoy agriculture and sharing our story, and supporting agriculture. My way, in our very urban county, of supporting agriculture and sharing our story is I'm involved in the local food community."

In pre-pandemic times, she said, that involvement took many forms: "farm-to-table dinners and events and school gardens," she said.

"We've created this community with some friends of mine," Stehly said. "A few phone calls and a few texts, and we fill half a ballroom with farmers who are paired with some of the best chefs in Southern California, and they get the best produce. They're working directly with the farmer."

People who show up are often surprised to find out about the agricultural bounty in their own backyard, she added, noting that such events are about "finding new ways to open people's eyes to the agricultural community here and get them thinking about where their food comes from."

With the pandemic, she said, she's been sticking close to home—she and Chris have a son, Cole, and another child on the way—but she has been providing wine for a friend who launched a series of online videos.

"There's been a lot of networking going on because of the whole shift of the food distribution and produce distribution and where it goes—everybody just checking in on each other and making connections where we can and helping each other out where we can," Stehly said.

She and her friends, she added, operate on a "pay it forward" basis.

"Sometimes you're the one supplying and sometimes you're the one receiving, but it's always just very communal, because we're all in it for the same reason—to support each other and support local ag and food," Stehly said.

"We just do a lot, being such an urban-interfaced county with small farms," she said. "We do what we can to remind people that we have agriculture in our backyard here and to support it in whatever way we all can."

(Kevin Hecteman is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. He can be reached at khecteman@cfbf.com.)

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.




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