Pie Ranch Sells Food for Thought at Highway One Non-Profit Farm Stand

Pie Ranch's farm stand (Adrienne Blaine)

While driving along the coast on Highway One between San Francisco and Santa Cruz, you may notice signs for pie and coffee popping up around Pescadero and Año Nuevo State Park. These hand-painted clapboards belong to the aptly named Pie Ranch.

However, pie and coffee enthusiasts should know that Pie Ranch was actually named by the founding partners: Nancy Vail, Jered Lawson, and Karen Heislerfor for the pie slice-shaped land it fills; and that the coffee for sale at its farm stand is primarily in the form of whole organic beans.

So, why the signs? “We hope that people will stop at Pie Ranch for a sweet treat, but leave with a lot of food for thought,” said Pie Ranch staffer Simone Albuquerque. We all have our own pie memories, however as a non-profit, Pie Ranch offers new connections as it strives to create a healthier food system through youth education, farmer training and regional partnerships.

Carrots and lemons at Pie Ranch's farm stand
Carrots and lemons at Pie Ranch's farm stand. (Adrienne Blaine)

Stepping into Pie Ranch’s farm stand is like walking through an interactive food justice exhibit where colorful produce and bucolic pies and pastries are presented alongside facts about farm labor, books about organic farming and the Black Lives Matter movement, and a map of the Bay Area’s indigenous tribes.

Pie Ranch also has off the charts rustic charm with hand-lettered signs, gingham table cloths and the coast’s unbeatable scenery. Children may find the small upright piano among a treasure trove of toys inside the farm stand. With seating both inside and outside, day-trippers are encouraged to linger.

Pie Ranch's whole wheat flour is an heirloom variety from Northern India called Jammu. It is grown and milled on site.
Pie Ranch's whole wheat flour is an heirloom variety from Northern India called Jammu. It is grown and milled on site. (Adrienne Blaine)

For locals, Pie Ranch hosts a family-friendly work day every third Saturday of the month where anyone with work boots and gloves can dig into farm life and help the farmers with their harvest. The next work day is on April 16 starting at 2pm. Volunteers can then opt into a tour of the farm and a potluck dinner followed by alcohol-free live music and dancing that goes well into the evening.

Strawberries at Pie Ranch's farm stand
Strawberries at Pie Ranch's farm stand (Adrienne Blaine)

Strawberry season has begun and Pie Ranch is lucky to have an early crop this year. “Especially at the beginning of the season, to me there's nothing better than the unadulterated taste of fresh strawberries,” said Pie Ranch Chef Educator David Stockhausen, “The first flush of the season is so often the best; the perfume and perfect balance of sweet and tart makes it such a natural treat all on its own.”

A strawberry pie made by Santa Cruz's Companion Bakeshop using Pie Ranch ingredients
A strawberry pie made by Santa Cruz's Companion Bakeshop using Pie Ranch ingredients. (Adrienne Blaine)

Stockhausen recommends dipping Pie Ranch strawberries in freshly whipped cream. “For a good dessert at a dinner party or a brunch shared plate, you really can't go wrong with a heap of fresh berries and cream. It's a communal, easy way to celebrate the season,” said Stockhausen. Here is his recipe:

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“Whip or whisk 1 cup ice-cold heavy cream, 2 TB of real maple syrup, and 1 tsp of an extract of your choice in a cold glass bowl (or stand mixer) until stiff peaks form. Vanilla is a classic flavoring, but I like spearmint, anise, or even rosemary flavor to go along with strawberries. It's counter-intuitive, but rosemary and strawberries are good flavor friends. Adding just a little rosemary extract (1 tsp) or finely minced fresh rosemary (1tsp+) sprigs to your whipped cream brings everything to the next level."

During National Farmworker Awareness Week from March 24-31, students from Oceana High School worked with the farmers and educators at Pie Ranch to create their own strawberry pies using heirloom wheat, milk, eggs, and fruit from the farm. In a social media post, Pie Ranch related the lessons from their food justice workshops to a favorite quote from activist Winona LaDuke, "We don't want a bigger piece of the pie. We want a different pie.”

Pie Ranch partners with high schools in Pescadero, Pacifica and San Francisco and offers youth programs to students all over the Bay Area. Pie Ranch aims not only to educate students about food systems, but to give them the tools to become food justice influencers in their own communities.

Farmer apprentices, Kase Wheatley, 25, and Veronica Mazariegos, 28, both cite their interactions with these teenagers as some of the most rewarding experiences they have had at Pie Ranch. Wheatley studied food systems at UC Davis and draws inspiration from science-fiction that explores the future of agro-ecological issues. Mazariegos comes to Pie Ranch by way of her experience working with farmers in Togo with the Peace Corps.

Pie Ranch is named after the pie slice shaped land it fills
Pie Ranch is named after the pie slice shaped land it fills. (Adrienne Blaine)

But you don’t need to be a student or an apprentice to get a Pie Ranch education. Anyone can sign up for Pie Ranch’s annual culinary series, which kicks off on June 18 with a dumpling workshop led by Pie Ranch staffer and professional baker Jen Chen. Other workshops will explore the intersection of culture and foods like tortillas, pizza and jam.

Pie Ranch has a deep commitment to the land and community it cultivates. The bench that encircles Pie Ranch’s communal fire pit is inscribed with this wish, “May this fire warm all those who have come before us and all who now love and nourish this land.”

The bench that encircles Pie Ranch’s communal fire pit is inscribed with this wish, “May this fire warm all those who have come before us and all who now love and nourish this land.”
The bench that encircles Pie Ranch’s communal fire pit is inscribed with this wish, “May this fire warm all those who have come before us and all who now love and nourish this land.” (Adrienne Blaine)

If you’re looking for a traditional roadside dining experience on Highway One, stop in Davenport at the Roadhouse or Whale City. But if you’re more interested in food for thought, don’t let Pie Ranch’s interpretation of coffee and pie pass you by.

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Pie Ranch
2080 Cabrillo Hwy [Map]
Pescadero, CA 94060
Ph: (650) 879-9281
Hours: Mon-Fri, 12-5pm; Sat-Sun, 10-5pm
Facebook: Pie Ranch
Twitter: @pieranch
Instagram: @pie_ranch
Price Range: $-$$ ($5-$25 pies)

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