Driving down the stunning northern California coast from San Francisco, watching the mist roll in off the rocky ocean shore, one can’t help but lose oneself in the journey. But in this case, the destination is just as remarkable and the drive. Pie Ranch, in Pescadero California, started as a 14 acre triangular piece of property in the hills just off the coast, founded as a center of sustainable food outreach and food system education. It has since grown into two ‘slices’ of land, both triangular, with the points of the pie slices ‘kissing’ one another. In addition to growing all of the ingredients for gorgeously delicious, fresh pies, the ranch also grows a wide variety of seasonal crops, from potatoes and lettuces to orchard fruits. Animals also abound on the ranch’s expanse of alternately mist-covered, alternately sun-soaked terrain. Volunteers can not only help harvest crops or tend to vegetable patches, but can also collect eggs from the warm undersides of some good-natured hens or feed scraps to the goats or the pigs.
Aside from being a great place for city-dwelling locals to spend an afternoon volunteering, Pie Ranch’s mission extends beyond just making great delicious pies. Their motto, “Pie Ranch cultivates a healthy and just food system from seed to table through food education, farmer training, and regional partnerships” sums it up quite nicely, but the roots grow even deeper than that. The ranch has connections with high schools in several local counties, providing programming in schools as well as field trips to pie ranch to plant the seeds for the next generation’s food leaders. These programs hope to further young peoples’ understanding of where food comes from and to provide education about the environmental, social, and economic effect food has, not only on them as individuals but also in their communities. The Ranch’s HomeSlice internship program takes their mission one step further, giving youth a chance to work intensively on the farm and develop skills in sustainable agriculture, food justice organizing, and the culinary arts.
The USDA recently reported that around 125,000 residents of the Bay Area live in what are referred to as ‘food deserts’, or areas where affordable, healthy food is difficult to obtain. For the USDA, areas qualify as food deserts if they are ‘low-income’ (a poverty rate of 20% or greater) and ‘low access’ (at least 33% of the residents live more than one mile from a grocery store). In these areas and others that may qualify for one metric and not the other, liquor stores and gas stations may greatly outnumber grocery stores, and any available produce is lower quality and above the budget of those who may have physical access to it. Food deserts are a central issue being tackled by food justice advocates, who argue that food is the kingpin problem that needs to be tackled when addressing poverty, public health, and a lack of environmental stewardship.
Pie Ranch is an integral part of the food justice movement in the Bay Area not only in their youth education and outreach but also in their regional partnerships, with organizations like the San Mateo Food Alliance and ChangeScale. Together with other such sustainable farming initiatives in the area, Pie Ranch hopes to help San Mateo county and surrounding areas evolve into self-sustaining, healthy, economically viable, and innovative food communities. And as a bonus, on days when members of the public can come volunteer, after a day of tending the fields, you are invited to take part in a potluck and barn dance. Who doesn’t love a barn dance?