In the village of Pescadero, forty-five minutes’ drive north of Santa Cruz, Dee Harley runs San Mateo County’s only active dairy. Harley and her staff care for a herd of more than 200 American Alpine goats, crafting the animals’ milk into sought-after cheeses (chevre, feta, ricotta, and fromage blanc) that have consistently garnered awards at national and international competitions. An increasingly popular agritourism destination for denizens of the San Francisco and Monterey Bay Areas, Harley Farms also offers leisurely, informative tours of its entire dairy operation, from the birth of hundreds of kids each spring to the on-site sale of delicate white cheeses decorated with fresh herbs and colorful edible flowers grown on the farmstead.
A native of Yorkshire, England, Harley discovered Pescadero while traveling in California as a young woman. In the gently rolling coastal landscape and in the rural community’s intimate spirit, she saw reflections of her verdant birthplace. When Harley fell in love with Tim Duarte, the local restaurateur who eventually became her husband, Pescadero became her new home.
Harley took up residence on a nine-acre farmstead originally built in 1910 as a cow dairy—and shuttered, like many small local farms, after California’s industrializing dairy industry migrated to the Central Valley. She worked for a while for Larry Jacobs and Sandra Belin at nearby Jacobs Farm. In 1982, she acquired six goats from a local dairywoman. The herd began to grow; one thing led to another, and Harley Farms was born.
Sarah Rabkin conducted this interview with Dee Harley on April 8th, 2009, in a private residence at Harley Farms. Outside the small cottage, guard llamas looked on while goats played atop a chicken tractor in the middle of a green pasture; small children participating in a farm tour reverently cradled newborn kids; flowers bloomed in garden beds. Dee Harley described the origins and evolution of her business and the day-to-day life of her small farm. She also articulated the values that inform her choices as a farmer and a businesswoman: deep community ties; a sense of responsibility to the local economy; dedication to the health of the herd and the land; creation of a high-quality product; truth in advertising; a sense of whimsy; a fierce resistance to unrestrained growth, and commitment to the preservation of an intimate, sustainable operation.