Magazine article Sunset

The Sweet Life

Magazine article Sunset

The Sweet Life

Article excerpt


On the coast south of San Francisco, a small band of farmers thrives with berries, goats, and innovation

The coast around Pescadero, California, can change from fog-wrapped to sun-warmed in August. In the shadow of eucalyptus trees, farmers make cheese from goat's milk and grow berries and corn. Considering Pescadero's proximity to major urban areas-San Francisco an hour north, the Silicon Valley just east across the hills-agriculture's continued presence here seems not just unlikely but magical too. Rising land costs, competition from big growers elsewhere: These forces make farming a challenge. And yet a small band of farmers is thriving, thanks to goats, pies, and a willingness to dream big and work hard.

"I grew up as a city kid in Los Angeles," says Jered Lawson, explaining his path to Pescadero. "But I felt a whole lot better in the mountains. When I was 19,1 visited a friend who was apprenticing on a farm. I was hooked."

Five years ago, Lawson and his wife, Nancy Vail, purchased 14 acres of Pescadero farmland. Today they share a 30-foot canvas yurt with their two children, Lucas, 3, and Rosa, 1. Every morning, Lawson and Vail hit the fields to cultivate strawberries for the pies that give their Pie Ranch its name.

Not far down the road is England-born Dee Harley. "When I was 18," she recalls, "I traveled down the West Coast and ended up in Pescadero, where I fell in love. My husband and I lived on this derelict cow dairy farm, and I thought, How great it would be to make it a dairy farm again. I bought six goats and got things started."

But in 2008, getting a small farm started and keeping it going is anything but easy. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the total number of American farms declined 5 percent between 1997 and 2007, with California, Oregon, and Washington each losing 1,000 farms between 2006 and 2007.

Pescadero's farmers have succeeded by being uniquely innovative. Lawson and Vail sell their pies right at Pie Ranch's farmstand and at Mission Pie, a cafe/bakery in San Francisco's Mission District. Because one of Pie Ranch's goals is to teach agriculture to urban kids, San Francisco high school students come down once a month to work on the farm; they also help staff the bakery.

As for Dee Harley, she has 203 American Alpine goats that supply her with milk for cheese and goat's-milk soap. But she supplements this business with organic produce, farm tours, and catered dinners in the farm's 100-year-old barn.

At the nearby Blue House Farm, growers Ryan casey and Ned Conwell have embraced Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), a program through which they deliver boxes of fresh veggies to 90 local customers every week. "Could they get a lot of this stuff from the farmers' market?" casey asks. "Of course. But becoming a part of what we're doing, for them, is worth something more."

Says Jered Lawson, "The fact that I can live out here and grow everything I need and grow everything for the local community-it never ceases to amaze me." Or as Dee Harley says, "When you are passionate about what you do, you do what you can to make it last."


Herding the goats at Harley Farms.


Dee Harley

THE BUSINESS OF FARMING "No matter how much you idealize this job, it's still a business. …

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