When Lerner was growing up on her aunt and uncle’s California farm, she fed the cows every morning, locked them in the barn at night and loaded and unloaded hay. “Farming is an enormous amount of hard work,” she says. But she enjoyed watching the cows graze under the pear trees. “I’ve always been a country mouse.”
Yet Lerner left the farm to get her graduate degree in computer science, and in 1984 she cofounded Cisco Systems with then-husband Leonard Bosack. Forced to leave the company six years later, she sold off her holdings for tens of millions of dollars. And while her subsequent ventures succeeded, something was missing. “I looked at my life in the city one day and said, ‘I’ve had enough.’ ”
In 1996, Lerner purchased Ayrshire Farm (ayrshirefarm.com), an 800-acre property in Virginia that was in total disrepair. “Luckily I found a great farm manager,” she says. He helped her rebuild the infrastructure and guided her as she developed a certified organic and humane farm. Recalling her childhood experiences on the family farm, Lerner says, “The cows were nice, and we were nice. It never occurred to us to torture them.”
Her biggest challenge today is contending with the “huge cartel factory farms” that dominate Virginia agriculture. So she focuses on heirloom fruits and vegetables, and rare animal breeds. Ayrshire now has annual sales of about $2.8 million. “Once you get the bug about being on the land,” Lerner says, “it’s sort of a hokey word, but it’s stewardship.”
Originally published in the July/August 2010 issue of More under the title FIELDS OF DREAMS.