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.
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.
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.
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.”
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: