History and Vision

In 2002, three founding partners — Nancy Vail, Jered Lawson, and Karen Heisler — purchased a 14-acre property on California’s San Mateo coast, 55 miles south of San Francisco along Highway 1. The area that includes Pie Ranch had been home to the Quiroste Tribe for thousands of years before European contact, until their way of life was violently disrupted. The Quiroste were Awaswas speakers and today they are represented by the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band with whom Pie Ranch is in partnership.

Pie Ranch's founding partners shared a vision to create a regenerative farming and food system education center to build community; provide a space for healing our relationships with ourselves, each other and the earth; steward the land and the environment; sequester carbon through climate friendly farming techniques; empower young people; train new farmers; make healthy food accessible to Bay Area communities; leverage privilege to address systemic racism and oppression; and build strategic partnerships.

We began a youth education program in 2005 as a partnership with Mission High School in San Francisco. In its first year the Youth Program served 50 students; it now reaches over 1500 young people annually from four partner schools and dozens of communities throughout the Bay Area. Over 6000 participants of all ages engage in food and farming education programs on the ranch each year. In 2006, Pie Ranch began hosting its first Farm Apprentices and Interns and as of January 2018 has trained 94 new farmers, the majority of whom are still engaged in farming, gardening, food education, or are working within the food system in some capacity.


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“We’re grateful for our partnership with Pie Ranch. One of the main goals of our Land Trust is to teach native land stewardship to the public. The Native Garden at Pie Ranch will help the Tribe preserve its traditional culture, identity, and language, connect with ancestral lands, heal and build community, and promote environmental justice.”
— Val Lopez, Tribal Chairman, Amah Mutsun Land Trust

In 2008 we established our first active Board of Directors, a group that has evolved to include a diverse range of expertise in law, finance, education, social justice, program design, governance, philanthropy, ethnobotany, food and farming. Also in 2008, we launched Phase 1 of a capital campaign to buy an adjacent 13-acre parcel of land, the Steele family's historic Green Oaks Ranch which operated as a dairy farm in the 1860's. We received our 501c3 tax-exempt status from the IRS in 2009, and completed our purchase of the historic ranch in 2012, where renovations will result from Phase 2 of our Capital Campaign. We earned our organic certification in 2012 and our Food Justice Certification & Animal Welfare Approved status in 2014.

In 2014 we began leasing 75 acres (expandable to 150) of farmland across the highway at Año Nuevo Ranch, where we are developing an innovative supply system that will be replicable for large organization food programs and the communities they serve, with the goal of establishing similar programs with our partner school districts. This will give us the ability to demonstrate how every link in the supply system from seed to table could become socially just, environmentally sound and economically viable.

At the end of 2017, we accomplished the strategies and priorities in our first strategic plan and we continue to evolve our organization with the goal of bringing greater health and justice to our food system. Early in 2018 we secured a 10-year lease at Cascade Ranch, a neighboring 416-acre farm. Over the coming year, we will be exploring the possibility of developing an incubator program for new farm business ownership specifically for indigenous people, people-of-color, and others who have been historically marginalized from equity-building pathways in agriculture.

Vision, Mission & Values

We Envision a World in which:

  • Agricultural lands are preserved and enhanced for generations to come.
  • Farmers have access to knowledge, land and capital to build sustainable farms directly linked to local residents, businesses, and schools.
  • All people have access to healthy food and know and value where their food comes from.

Pie Ranch's Mission is to cultivate a healthy and just food system from seed to table through food education, farmer training, and regional partnerships.

Pie Ranch's Values are Respect,  Justice, Love, Collaboration, Responsible Stewardship, Diversity and Empowerment. Read more about our Values and working definitions here

Why pie?

We call ourselves Pie Ranch for several reasons:

  • The ranch is in the shape of a slice of pie. The triangular shape of the land inspired the farm’s distinctly fitting name and programming around pie as a literal and figurative learning tool.
  • 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 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.
  • Native environmental activist, Winona LaDuke, has allowed us to use her quote: "We don't want a bigger piece of the pie, we want a different pie." Her words help us to envision what that different pie might look like and inspires us to think critically.