Pie Ranch II

Spring-Summer 2018
Project Type
Full team
Project Focus
Business Plans,
Market Analysis
Organization Type


Pie Ranch (Pie) has a mission to educate youth and train farmers in sustainable organic farming while improving the conditions of urban-rural partnerships to flourish. Since its founding in 2002, Pie, which is based on the San Mateo Coast between Santa Cruz and Half Moon Bay, has acquired or leased three Pescadero/Año Nuevo ranch properties totaling 520 acres. Current programs include:

Youth Education Program serving 1,000 to 1,500 youth per year, from pre-K through twelfth grade (approximately half of whom are low-income students of color); Emerging Farmer Training program, which provides an immersive, hands-on learning experience about all aspects of organic food production and small-farm marketing; and delivery of locally-grown organic food to large companies’ cafeteria programs (such as at Stanford, Google, and AirBnB).

In addition, Pie Ranch is active in regional native American advocacy work, runs a roadside farm stand and a small Community Supported Agriculture program, and hosts 5000-6000 visitors per year in its community-building program.


Since its founding, in addition to educating youth about farming and where food comes from, Pie Ranch has offered aspiring farmers a place to learn the trade, opportunities to become familiar with a wide range of farm equipment and regional growing conditions, and the chance to serve as hands-on apprentices alongside knowledgeable farmers. In the process, Pie’s co-founders have established strong regional partnerships with a host of food system-related organizations and public agencies. Pie would like to extend its farmer apprentice program by creating a farm incubator that helps early stage beginning farmers, particularly former farm-workers, take the next step by providing them with land to start their own small farm businesses, along with support to help them succeed. Pie recently was granted a $1 per year, 10-year lease to 416 acres at neighboring Cascade Ranch to support the incubator program’s goal of preparing future generations of regional farmers for success.

Project Objectives

Develop a business plan for a new organic/sustainable land-based farmers-in-training incubator (Pie Ranch at Cascade) focused especially on people of color including:

  • What is the best business model for the program and
  • What resources, services, and expertise are needed to run an incubator creating successful farm businesses.

Plan will be used to attract early stage funding and help guide initial operations

Project Overview

The team:

  • Researched and interviewed similar farm incubator organizations both locally and nationally for best practices and alternative business models. Collected relevant incubator program supporting documentation.
  • Interviewed small organic coast-side farmers as well as relevant stakeholders at Pie, partners, and related organizations.
  • Assessed the current considerations / issues for successfully operating sustainable ag farms in the local area including zoning and legal issues.
  • Researched small farm capital availability and reviewed local ag reports.
  • Reviewed findings, formulated alternate strategies, and developed preliminary recommendations for the mid-project presentation
  • Developed final recommendations based on mid-project direction from the Pie ED and key board members.

Key Recommendations

  • Start slow with one or two participants in a limited term (3-5 year) ‘incubator’ that pilots the program and proves the land productivity. Expand the number of participants over time.
  • A longer term collaborative program that provides graduates of the above incubator program an opportunity to lease more land and use infrastructure to grow their farm/ranch business. Allows building equity in land - soil, perennials, orchards, etc.
  • Explore a long term (5-10+ year) program that offers Cascade land and infrastructure to EXPERIENCED local farmers and ranchers in a cooperative model.
  • Develop a housing initiative for program participants
  • Hire a hands-on program manager

Key Conclusions

  • An incubator program would be possible but has risks
  • A go-slow approach to prove out the concept was needed to identify and mitigate the risks
  • Housing would be a major issue to be tackled
  • Hiring a knowledgeable manager to phase-in the program and work out the issues was vital
  • The program would need outside support funds as it wouldn’t self-fund

Final Report Outline

  • Background – summary of research done
  • Main recommendations along with supporting details
  • Staffing, Financials, Risks, Next Steps
  • Discussion