55 miles south of San Francisco along Highway 1 lies Pie Ranch. Founded in 2002 by Nancy Vail, Jered Lawson, and Karen Heisler with a vision to create a regenerative farming and food education center. Beginning with 14 acres along the San Mateo coast, Pie Ranch has since acquired an additional 13 acres and currently leases another 416 acres at the nearby Cascade Ranch.
Earlier this month, Pie Ranch hosted CalCAN, Senator Josh Becker (D-San Mateo), the San Mateo Resource Conservation District, Amah Mutsun Land Trust and neighboring farmer Jake Kosek for a field day to learn about Pie Ranch’s work supporting climate-resilient agriculture for mid-career farmers.
Senator Becker was elected to the State Senate in 2020 and chairs the Senate Budget Subcommittee on Resources, Environmental Protection, and Energy which handles climate smart agriculture funding. He represents California’s 13th Senate District which includes most of San Mateo County and northern areas of Santa Clara County. The district is also home to Pie Ranch, which is located just south of the town of Pescadero on Highway 1.
Exploring Pie Ranch and Cascade Ranch
Regenerator Program, Electric Tractors and Carbon Goals
Our tour with Senator Becker was at Cascade Ranch, where Pie Ranch is running their Regenerator Program to support new farm business ownership specially for women, Black, Indigenous, Latinx, People of Color, including the LGBTQIA community and others who have been historically marginalized from equity-building pathways in agriculture. At this location Pie Ranch also partners with the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band to cultivate native plants, including ones used for food, cultural and medicinal uses.
We started the day with a wagon tour of Cascade Ranch led by Leonard Diggs, the Director of Farmer & Rancher Opportunities and a member of the California Department of Food and Agriculture’s Environmental Farming Act Science Advisory Panel. At our first stop we saw electric tractors which Pie Ranch was able to purchase with the assistance of the California Air Resources Board’s CORE Program. This program provides voucher incentives for zero-emission off-road equipment including farm equipment. In addition to sequestering carbon through their on-farm climate resilience practices, Pie Ranch is able to reduce on-farm emissions by using electric equipment in accordance with their Carbon Farm Plan goals.
Equipment Sharing and AB 552
Our discussion about the electric tractors also turned to the topic of equipment sharing as a strategy to support small and mid-scale farmers in adopting climate resilient practices. Implements like no-till drills, compost spreaders, and roller crimpers can be cost-prohibitive for a producer to purchase on their own, but shared equipment programs allow multiple farmers to benefit from agricultural tools. We were especially excited to give Senator Becker a chance to see some of the equipment up close since he is a co-author on the CalCAN and CAFF sponsored bill, AB 552 (Bennett) which seeks to create a grant program to support agricultural equipment sharing program efforts.
Carbon Farm Plans and Native Plant Cultivation
At our next stop Kasey Butler of San Mateo Resource Conservation District (RCD) shared more about the RCD’s work with local farmers and ranchers to develop carbon farm plans. Carbon farm plans identify all the opportunities for GHG reduction and carbon sequestration on a farm and have similarities to traditional conservation plans. We also learned about the RCD’s efforts to connect growers with financial resources and technical support to adopt climate-resilient practices outlined in carbon farm plans, such as cover cropping, hedgerows and compost application.
The tour also took us by an area where the Amah Mutsun Land Trust cultivates native plants to grow seed for restoration and rematriation projects in the region. Part of this work is supported by grants from the California State Parks Foundation from the last natural resources bond, Proposition 68 from 2018.
Wildfire Resilience Efforts
Next, Jered, one of the co-founders of Pie Ranch, shared how they are also improving wildfire resilience on the farm. In 2020 the CZU Lightning Complex fire destroyed Pie Ranch’s 157-year-old farmhouse and several other structures on the property. In addition to rebuilding, Jered and others focused on removing the many eucalyptus trees found on the property. Eucalyptus trees are native to Australia but considered an invasive species in California and pose a high fire risk. Removing the trees helps protect the farms from future wildfires and supports their efforts to restore native species at Pie Ranch.
Developing A Regional Food Partnership
For our last stop, we sat outside and learned more about Pie Ranch’s work to support regional food systems while eating pie. Pie Ranch is one of several organizations that received a USDA Regional Food Partnerships grant to work on creating a 9-county food and agriculture district which could raise revenue and enact regional policies to support sustainable local food systems. In order to make this vision a reality, the effort will eventually need a bill passed by the State Legislature to authorize the authority. A recent example of this was the formation of the Bay Area Housing Finance Authority which was authorized via AB 1487 (Chiu, 2019).
Continued Advocacy for Climate Resilience
Additionally, CalCAN shared our work as a current co-sponsor of AB 408 (Wilson) and our advocacy to ensure that robust investments in a more sustainable food and farming system are included in any climate resilience bond. We also shared an update on our efforts with AB 1757 (C. Garcia, 2022), a bill that Senator Becker co-authored which requires the state the set an ambitious range of targets for GHG emission reductions and sequestration on natural and working landscapes by January 1, 2024.
Senator Becker’s reflections from the tour:
“I truly enjoyed my tour of Cascade and Pie ranches and appreciate the opportunity to learn more about sustainable agricultural practices, land stewardship, Amah Mutsun Land Trust partnerships, and the new, electric farm equipment being shared by our Coastside farm communities. My visit stressed the importance of public-private partnerships and in finding nature-based carbon solutions to promote climate resilience in the San Mateo County agricultural community. And of course, the strawberry streusel pie was delicious!”