By: Katrina Schwartz
Harvest season is coming to a close, but at an educational farm just south of San Francisco, the small staff tries to give visitors a better idea of what it means to be a small scale farmer. At Pie Ranch, urban youth learn how to grow and harvest the ingredients for pie. And the farm builds community through hard work, good food and music once a month.
Pie Ranch founder Jered Lawson shows a group of volunteers how to cut wheat by hand at a monthly work day. Situated halfway between Santa Cruz and San Francisco, Pie Ranch attracts people of all ages to come work for a day, eat together and dance.
Jered Lawson, a Pie Ranch founder demonstrates how to harvest wheat by hand and how to separate the wheat from the chaff.
"We wanted to do that from the beginning," said Nancy Vail, co-founder and Lawson's wife. "Have a way to bring people out for an experience on the farm and then to celebrate that work through the dancing."
Pie Ranch is probably best known for its youth programs - and what they call Home Slice students. High schoolers come to the farm from around the state a few times a year.
"A lot of farm education is about learning where your food comes from and getting an experience on the farm with vegetables or animals or milk or whatever," explained Debbie Harris, the Home Slice program coordinator. She says many kids get their first taste of fresh food at the ranch. "Here we're doing all those things, but we're really putting it in the context of food justice and understanding all the aspects of a food system and how it relates to individual lives."
"I want to work with land, with plants and animals," said Daisy Villanueva, a high school student from Los Angeles. "I thought it was fascinating. It's incredible just to be here."
Villanueva says LA schools push for students to learn about business so they can return to help their communities. But she wants to stay closer to the agricultural tradition of her parents.
"We're really just looking around for a place that we could learn about farming," said Guy Brent, who attended the work day with his family. "But not just learn, put some, uh, dirt under the fingernails." Brent wants to share his childhood experience on a farm with his kids who grew up in San Diego.
"We picked limes and lemons and berries and lettuce," said Blake Seely. "Then we came back and made lunch with all the stuff we picked. And made these pies and all this stuff. It was just a lot of fun." Seely is here to work -- and cash in his auction prize -- a day of harvesting and cooking with the Pie Ranch team.
Volunteer Jamie Nadel from San Francisco helped spread compost around a row of citrus trees in the morning, but she's itching to put on her dancing shoes.
"Actually it's the barn dance later tonight, that's what drew me," she said. "I mean, it's like you work hard you play hard."
As the afternoon heat fades tired workers share food as the band warms up. Then, they pack the small barn and dance the night away.