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Sustainability Spotlight: Pie Ranch

Updated: Jan 21, 2021

Along scenic Highway 1, colorful hand-made signs direct customers to purchase fresh produce and homemade pie from a roadside stand, which fronts the multi-acre nonprofit organization and organic production farm, Pie Ranch. Located in Pescadero, CA, Pie Ranch is aptly named, as not only does the shape of its property resemble a slice of pie, but those at Pie Ranch believe pie, with all of its ingredients and associations, is the perfect symbol to represent how food comes from the land and ends up on our tables. The was established in 2002 by partners Nancy Vail, Jered Lawson, and Karen Heisler, who shared a vision of creating a farming and food system education center with the goal of building community. Specifically, Pie Ranch seeks to provide a space for healing, make healthy food accessible to families in the Bay Area, promote land and environmental stewardship, empower young people to get involved in sustainability, and utilize climate friendly farming techniques, such as regenerative practices that build healthy soil and draw down atmospheric carbon dioxide. With various partnerships with local groups and by fostering a diverse and inclusive environment on-site, Pie Ranch also addresses the issue of systemic racism as it pertains to food access and jobs in agriculture, as people of color continue to be pushed to the margins and excluded from the knowledge, land and capital necessary to establish sustainable farms.

Pie Ranch strives to cultivate a healthier and more just food system “from seed to table,” envisioning a world where agricultural lands are preserved for generations to come, farmers are given access to the education and tools needed to build sustainable farms that serve local residents, schools, and businesses, and all people have access to nutritious food. Above all, Pie Ranch values respect, love, resilience, and collaboration, and has created a culture of care among their staff.

In alignment with their objective to be responsible land stewards, Pie Ranch has received Animal Welfare Approved (AWA) certification, an indication of their commitment to humane animal husbandry. The laying hens at Pie Ranch, for instance, are raised according to the highest welfare standards and roam open pastures where they can engage in natural behaviors, like pecking and scratching for insects. Besides their consideration for animal welfare, Pie Ranch also engages in pasture-based management to promote crop fertility and soil preservation, as soil erosion and nutrient loss are a frequent consequence of most agricultural practices and have a damaging effect on the surrounding environment. Every three to four years, farmers at Pie Ranch rotate the pasture and cropping areas, which provides crops with the natural fertility left behind by their animal’s manure. Likewise, rather than utilizing harmful chemical fertilizers, they make use of cover crops to ensure the compactness and quality of the soil, sequester carbon, feed earthworms and other vital soil organisms, and increase crop yields.

Since its founding, Pie Ranch has established an array of programs that address other aspects of their mission and encourage community engagement. For example, Pie Ranch’s Youth Education Program affords nearly a thousand Bay Area students from Pescadero Middle/High School, Oceana High School, and Mission High School the opportunity to get involved hands-on with agriculture, nutrition, and community action. The program aims to educate participants on the social, political, and environmental implications of the food we eat on both a micro and macro level. Students from partner schools are encouraged to apply for the HomeSlice Youth Internship Program, which further develops leadership skills through experiential training in sustainable agriculture, culinary arts, mindfulness and meditation, and community/movement building. Moreover, Pie Ranch’s Public Programs are aimed at a diverse group of adults and youth from across the Bay Area, offering property tours, workshops, programs, and monthly farm days where the public is invited to volunteer on the ranch, then unwind with a potluck and barn dancing in the evening. For those interested in a career in sustainable agriculture, the Emerging Farmer Training Program offers a year-long or summer-long apprenticeship that not only educates participants about organic farming methods, but also instructs trainees on small farm marketing and management.

At the start of the pandemic, Pie Ranch had to shift focus from their educational programs to concentrate their efforts on securing organic produce for individuals and families experiencing food insecurity in Pescadero and the greater Bay Area, creating what they call the Food Hub. Pie Ranch purchases produce from farmers who have been impacted by the pandemic, prioritizing those new to the agriculture industry, farmers of color, and women in the field, and distributing the goods to people in need. Also, the Farmstand remains open six days a week to the public, with proper social-distancing protocols in place to keep staff and customers safe while shopping as the pandemic continues.

Pie Ranch not only recognizes the current injustices facing vulnerable communities in the Bay Area, but seeks to also address the marginalization of historically disenfranchised communities. Pie Ranch was built on what was once Quiroste tribal lands prior to European contact, which violently disrupted their way of life. Today, the Quiroste are represented by the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band. Pie Ranch recognizes the need to reconnect Indigenous Peoples with their rightful lands, and leverages their privilege to stand in solidarity with the Amah Mutsun, actively partnering with the Tribe in various capacities. In recent years, Pie Ranch dedicated a section of their property to make a Native Garden full of plants that are essential to the Amah Mutsun people, featuring grassland foods, nuts and berries, fibers and basketry plants, and plants for personal care. The ethno-botanic garden, designed by Tribal member Matthew Lopez, serves as a place of healing to help the Tribe preserve its traditional culture, language, and identity, and to connect members to their ancestral lands through environmental stewardship. Furthermore, Pie Ranch involves the Amah Mutsun in their annual fundraising farm-to-table dinner event, during which Val Lopez, Tribal Chairman of the Amah Mutsun Land Trust, leads attendees of the event and Pie Ranch staff in prayer to give thanks before the meal.

As an attendee of Pie Ranch’s farm-to-table dinners, sadly cancelled this year due to the pandemic, I have seen Pie Ranch in action firsthand. It is truly incredible to witness the passion and enthusiasm the staff has for their work and the zeal with which they strive to amplify all voices in the conversations around food access and land justice. Pie Ranch is truly a slice of heaven, bringing out the best in people who unite behind a beautiful cause. The food system at large is not suited to support human and ecological health in the long run, so as a young person living in the Bay Area it is comforting to know that right in my backyard there exists a place where people of diverse backgrounds are actively working towards a more viable future for all, one where food is cultivated with intention and equitable relationships are the foundation of agricultural production. So, if you ever find yourself in Pescadero, stop by the Farmstand at Pie Ranch, enjoy a slice of pie, and consider the intention with which it was created.

Written by — Mia Rosati

Learn More

To find out more about Pie Ranch and its initiatives, please visit the following websites:

For more information on the Amah Mutsun Land Trust, check out this website:

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