Pie Ranch is a model center for sustainable farming and food system education, sitting on a 14-acre triangular plot of land on California’s San Mateo coast. Nancy Vail, Jered Lawson, and Karen Heisler purchased the property in 2002 and, inspired by the shape of the plot and their belief that pie (with all its ingredients and associations) is a great means for understanding how food gets from the land to our tables, the partners gave the farm its distinctly fitting name.
Since 2005, Pie Ranch has operated as a working farm, hosting youth from regional high schools to participate in farm-based programs and activities. Based on their belief that the promise of pie would encourage urban youth and adults to come discover the beauty and importance of our rapidly disappearing farms, co-directors and husband and wife, Nancy and Jered, created their first animal and crop plans based on the necessary ingredients for a pumpkin pie, and eggs, milk, winter squash and wheat were some of the first additions to the new farm operation.
Today, Pie Ranch is home to a flock of AWA-certified laying hens which supply pasture-raised eggs for the farm’s educational work by encouraging youth from the San Francisco Bay Area to understand and appreciate where their food comes from and the importance of high-welfare, sustainable farming and healthy eating. Jered and Nancy see AWA certification as an important tool in educating visitors to their farm about the health, welfare, and environmental benefits of raising animals on pasture. “We value education about and promotion of better treatment of the domesticated animals that are part of our food supply,” Jered explains. “Partnering with AWA increases the likelihood that visitors to Pie Ranch will come away with a better understanding of healthier and more humane practices and change their buying behaviors in support of farms and ranches that are AWA-certified.”
AWA certification verifies that laying hens at Pie Ranch are raised according to the highest welfare standards, outdoors on pasture where they can perform their natural behaviors, like pecking and scratching for bugs and insects. In addition to their concerns for animal welfare, Nancy and Jered were inspired to practice pasture-based managements as an integral part of the farm’s fertility management for their crops. Every three to four years, the pasture and cropping areas are rotated at Pie Ranch, allowing the crops to benefit from the accumulated natural fertility left behind by their animals’ manure.
In addition to their work to connect urban, suburban and rural populations to the source of their food, Pie Ranch’s farmer training program fosters new farmers and ranchers through their apprenticeship program. Aspiring farmers are immersed in all aspects of the farm as resident apprentices who spend a full year participating in all farm operations and marketing. In order to offer a more in-depth learning opportunity for those specifically interested in high-welfare livestock practices, Pie Ranch also offers an advanced apprenticeship or journeyman-level experience in animal husbandry. Debbie Harris, the farm manager, with support for Jered, will guide the advanced apprentices in animal husbandry to develop confidence and knowhow before they go out and establish their own operations. For the 2014 season, Emil Hansgen will be the advanced apprentice overseeing poultry.
2014 is an exciting year of growth and expansion for Pie Ranch, which recently acquired an additional 150-acre farm across the road from their current property. This will allow the Pie Ranch team to expand the system of production they’ve developed on their home ranch, integrating crops and animals on a much larger scale and presenting new opportunities for education, training and production.
Jered and Nancy live at Pie Ranch with their two children, Lucas and Rosa. As well as welcoming regular school groups and hosting special events, the Ranch is open to the public on the third Saturday of every month for a Work Day and Barn Dance. Pie Ranch pasture-raised eggs are available through the farm’s CSA program or the Pie Ranch farm stand, open year-round. Visit www.pieranch.org for more information about the farm or for farm stand hours, or contact Pie Ranch at firstname.lastname@example.org or (650) 879-0995.