Ryan Casey, owner and operator of Blue House Farm, crushed a small handful of soil between his fingers. He was kneeling on the edge of the field he leases at POST-protected San Gregorio Farm, just south of Half Moon Bay. The carbon-rich, black earth rolled between his fingers and he seemed content with the vitality of the life force behind his business.
For the past 14 years, Casey has been farming at various POST-protected locations along the San Mateo Coast. We provided the opportunity he needed to grow and watched as he literally built his business from the ground up.
In 2016, POST awarded Blue House Farm a long-term agricultural lease on 74 acres of protected farmland along San Gregorio Creek, with the option to purchase the property in the future. It was thrilling that a more permanent home for Blue House Farm had been established.
But to be honest, at the beginning of Casey’s lease, the property was in pretty rough shape. We had just acquired the land the year before and all of the necessary infrastructure (including the housing and equipment storage) had been completely neglected. It was almost a blank slate and there was a lot of work to do to make it a functional farm again.
We realize that to successfully combat the loss of farmland and farming businesses on the San Mateo Coast, we need to do more than just protect the land. To have successful farms in our area, strategic investments in infrastructure are essential. Put simply, farms need more than just land to survive. So, over the past three years, with Casey in the lead, we have been working to revitalize this farm (and many others).
When I visited the property earlier this month, I barely recognized it. Casey was busy helping coordinate construction of his new barn and tractor shed, for which the wood was all locally sourced. And as I looked around, I had a moment of appreciation for all we’ve accomplished together: the barn and shed being built before my eyes, a brand-new 30-acre-foot water reservoir, four farmworker housing units, a refurbished packing shed, three greenhouses, new fencing and a new farm stand. When asked, Casey agreed: it’s been a “total makeover.”
Have a look for yourself:
Enriching the Soil
Casey runs a diversified organic vegetable operation on the property and has been improving the soil by planting cover crops, applying compost and rotating grazing sheep on the land. These investments are actively improving soil organic matter, water retention and carbon storage.
A New Farm Stand
An adorable blue farm stand opened on the property in 2017, right on Highway 84, with fresh produce available for purchase. It’s open on weekends from 10:00 AM – 5:00 PM.
In partnership with San Mateo County’s Department of Housing forgivable loan program to promote farmworker housing, we installed four new three-bedroom/two-bath mobile home units, along with a domestic well, a new septic system, extended electricity, fire hydrants and improved fire access. Pictured above, County Supervisor Don Horsley puts the finishing touches on the newly installed housing.
In cooperation with the San Mateo Resource Conservation District, we have increased water security for the farm and enhanced the stream flow of San Gregorio Creek to protect threatened and endangered steelhead trout and Coho salmon.
We replaced the existing, leaky 14-acre-foot reservoir with a 30-acre-foot reservoir (an acre-foot is 43,560 cubic feet, enough to cover one acre in a foot of water). State grant funds paid for the upgraded reservoir, and its increased capacity alleviates the need to pump water out of the creek during dry months, when fish need it most.
A New Barn and Tractor Shed
POST helped Blue House Farm plan, design and permit the new barn and tractor shed. Casey funded the construction and enlisted the help of his crew and friends to build it.
At POST, we’re building a future where local farms can continue to thrive along the San Mateo Coast – supporting an agricultural greenbelt close to the urban areas of the greater Bay Area. Not only is this good for our local economies, food system, communities and culture, farmland plays an integral role in supporting the health of our regional ecosystems.
This is mission-critical work.
Still kneeling next to his field, Ryan and I reflected on all that’s changed around the property and with his business. It’s been a busy three years and clearly there’s more work to do. But it was nice to have a minute to reflect and appreciate all that we’ve accomplished together so far.
“I’m not going anywhere,” he shared with a smile.
Peninsula Open Space Trust (POST) protects open space on the Peninsula and in the South Bay for the benefit of all. Since its founding in 1977, POST has been responsible for saving more than 79,000 acres as permanently protected land in San Mateo, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties. Learn more