Who We Are
The History of Pie Ranch
In 2002, three founding partners—Nancy Vail, Jered Lawson, and Karen Heisler—purchased a triangular 14-acre property on California’s San Mateo coast to establish Pie Ranch. The shape of the land, and their shared vision to create a model center of sustainable farming and food system education, inspired the farm’s 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. Pie Ranch also works with educators and community collaborators in diverse urban, suburban and rural settings to help students apply what they’ve learned at Pie Ranch in their daily lives. In addition, Pie Ranch mentors aspiring farmers as resident apprentices who spend a full year immersed in all aspects of farm operations and marketing.
We call ourselves Pie Ranch for several reasons:
- The ranch is in the shape of a slice of pie.
- Pie, with all its ingredients and associations, is a great means for understanding how food comes from the land to our tables.
- The promise of pie will encourage city youth and adults to come discover the beauty and importance of rapidly disappearing farms to the future of people in the Bay Area, our food security, health and our understanding and appreciation of life and nature.
- Pie Ranch is a place for “pie in the sky” idealistic thinking to guide social change, such as helping an urban school source local produce for their cafeteria; or a neighborhood to get their “slice of the pie” to ensure access to high quality fresh, locally grown foods. We create meaningful and measurable change toward sustainable communities. We believe enjoyable and thoughtful engagement with good food can bring individuals, families and institutions–from children to school boards– together to create a more healthful and just society.
The Pie Ranch Team
Our team comes to this work with many years of experience in organic, diversified food production, non-profit program development, farm-based education and small-farm advocacy, as well as public service and community organizing.
Jered Lawson, Executive Director
Jered has been linking communities with local farms since 1990. He initiated and coordinated Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs at the Homeless Garden Project and the Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems (CASFS). Jered also initiated and coordinated a statewide CSA advocacy, outreach, and educational program for the Community Alliance with Family Farmers (CAFF). In 1995, he organized a Western Region CSA conference that brought together over 450 farmers, consumers, educators, and agency representatives. Jered worked with Center for Ecoliteracy in Berkeley for three years (1999-2001) and again for CAFF until 2005 to launch their Farm-to-School programs, Food Policy Councils, and buy local campaigns. Jered is an avid photographer and writer, contributing to publications of the Center for Food Safety, the International Forum on Globalization and the Community Food Security Coalition. Jered has published interviews and writing in the books Farms of Tomorrow (1998) and Sharing the Harvest (1999), as well as a report of how Live Power Community Farm permanently protected their land as a sustainable farm. Currently, Jered splits his time between caring for his children, Lucas and Rosa, and this nascent educational farm.
Born and raised in Sevilla, Spain, Delma graduated from the University of Sevilla with a degree in Business Administration and received her MBA from the Florida Institute of Technology. Delma brings 16 years of finance & operations management experience & education to her work at Pie Ranch. Prior to joining the Pie Ranch team, she worked for a San Francisco based software company as an International Controller. Delma has been active in the local community for years. She served as Treasurer for the La Honda Educational Foundation, a group which helps raise funds for educational achievement programs at La Honda Elementary School, where her two sons attend. Delma continues her activities in the community as a participant in Arte Motu, a group dedicated to supporting the arts here in the Pescadero-La Honda area. Delma is also an oil painter, mosaicist, and digital artist, and she is often out hiking with her dog, hanging out with friends, cooking or enjoying the company of her family. Delma is passionate about Pie Ranch’s mission as well as our pies!
Nancy Vail, Farm Programs Director
Nancy is a broadly experienced sustainable food systems farmer, advocate and educator. She managed UCSC’s Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program at the Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems (CASFS) from 1998 until 2008 where she trained forty apprentices a year in organic food production and the workings of CSA. She was a contributing writer to the Center’s two training manuals, Teaching Organic Farming & Gardening and Teaching Direct Marketing & Small Farm Viability. Additionally, Nancy was the Farm-to-College Coordinator at CASFS from 2005-2008 where she engaged university students in activities and classes at the campus Farm and connected the campus Farm & other local farms’ produce with the campus dining halls. Prior to her work at the Center, Nancy apprenticed on a number of farms in Japan, New Zealand, Maine, New York and Illinois. Nancy splits her time between Pie Ranch and caring for her children Lucas and Rosa. She also enjoys playing fiddle with the band The County Line Pickers.
Debbie has been getting her hands dirty working with youth in the soil for over ten years. Debbie’s love for farming has brought her all over the world from Mongolia to Zanzibar studying sustainable agriculture and rural development. After several years growing at Farm and Wilderness in Vermont, Debbie managed a youth run urban farm in Philadelphia for the University of Pennslyvania’s Urban Nutrition Initiative. Thereafter Debbie went on to work at Freewheelin Farm in Santa Cruz, CA and later to manage Beech Hill Farm for the College of the Atlantic in northern Maine. Debbie’s passion for her work comes from a deep sense that life is better when laughing, getting dirty & eating well. She feels most at home swimming in fresh water, running in the woods and zipping around the city on her bike.
From a family of educators, Kelly has been involved in education in various guises for a number of years. A graduate of Humboldt State University, Kelly traveled the Pacific for several years aboard her sailboat, Ghost. Settling in the Florida Keys, Kelly began teaching social studies to high school age, at-risk youth. Kelly returned to the Bay Area in 2003 and promptly became involved at Pescadero Elementary School where her daughter attends as well as serving on the board of the Square Peg Foundation, an organization devoted to race-horse rescue & adaptive riding for at-risk youth.
Working for Pie Ranch is a natural fit for Kelly where her interests in nature, animals & educating youth all converge in one spot. When she isn’t quick-stepping around Pie Ranch, she can be found in the hills of Pescadero on her horse, Dohlman or walking her dog pack if Dohlman has had enough!
The History of Steele Ranch
[Adapted from The Natural History of Año Nuevo, Le Boeuf and Kaza, Eds. 1981]. The parcel is situated in an area rich in natural & cultural history. From the mating grounds of elephant seals, to the fresh water streams where salmon run, the area is known for its diversity of habitats for animal, bird and plant species. For thousands of years the rich resources of the Año Nuevo region sustained one of the largest Native American communities in the Monterey Bay region. Knowledge of their culture comes to us from early travelers, Spanish missionaries, settlers in the area, and artifacts which can still be found today at old village sites. In 1861, Isaac Steele rented a horse in San Francisco and rode south to Rancho Punta del Año Nuevo, searching for lands to expand his family’s dairy operation. On first look, he proclaimed the area “cow heaven” and immediately arranged for a ten year lease with an option to buy the southern portion of the rancho. It must have been love at first sight, for there was never any question that the Steeles would take up the option to buy. Isaac immediately began building his home at Green Oaks Creek and moved into it in 1862. Catherine B. Steele, Isaac’s granddaughter inherited the property after Isaac’s death in 1903. It wasn’t until 1981 that the land was sold and held until now. With initial help from the Peninsula Open Space Trust (POST), the land has been removed from the speculative market. POST has empowered Pie Ranch to launch a capital campaign to permanently protect the site.