Can Gleason Ranch be saved?

Ranch is in imminent peril. Can the community save it?

The clock is running out on Gleason Ranch.

In just days, owners Nancy Prebilich and her sister Cindy Holland may be facing foreclosure on the ranch that has been in their family for generations. Popular with chefs, Prebilich gained national acclaim for her sustainably raised chickens, pork and lamb. But a year of devastating loss has put the operation in immediate jeopardy, and it Prebilich is reaching out to the local food community to help her keep the lights on — literally.

In the short-term, Gleason is hoping to raise about $13,000 to keep the ranch operating for another 60 days. Things like electricity and mortgage payments are in serious arrears, and the ranch hopes to convince restaurants to pre-pay meat purchases for the year in order to raise some quick capital. Supporters like Mark and Terri Stark have helped to fund Prebilich’s operation in past months by paying for chicken, goat and pork for Stark’s Steakhouse and Monti’s in advance. Oliver’s Markets is also helping by purchasing pork from Gleason for its sausage.

Over the next five years, Prebilich has plans to raise about $500,000 in capital by making Gleason Ranch an LLC holding company with investors and a board of directors. She has been working with financial veterans like Dan Smith, who owns French Garden and organized a board to help save Palm Drive Hospital in Sebastopol, along with a number of other ranchers and farmers to help create a viable longterm business plan. Though she’s confident she can find up to twenty investors to help with the capital over the next few years, it may be too little too late if she can’t pony up some immediate cash to keep the ranch afloat over the coming months.

The problem stack up to what Prebilich calls a “perfect storm of unanticipated events over the last year. Both her mother and father died this year within six months of each other, halving the operational manpower of the farm and creating a experiential vacuum, since Prebilich’s father was a the heart of the ranch’s meat operations. The ranch also lost thousands of chicks during a heat wave last year, then was double whammied by rains that forced them to keep many of the remaining chickens inside and reduce additional operations to control overcrowding. They’ve yet to recover fully. Compounding the problems, the ranch was asked to leave both the Santa Rosa and Sebastopol farmers’ markets after ongoing disputes with market manager Paula Downing, which Prebilich said amounted to about $100,000 in sales each year. Prebilich is currently in litigation over the expulsion. After problems with their distributor, Prebilich also got recent news that the money lender who lent Prebilich’s mother $675,00 against their mortgage has called in the loan and is threatening foreclosure.

Already, many in the food community are coming together to help stem the financial blood flow and aid in immediate needs. Two fundraising dinners are being organized on behalf of Gleason Ranch. Additionally, Prebilich has sent out a letter to potential investors explaining the longterm opportunities.  Over the last months, Gleason has sold to CSA members, at the Healdsburg Market and through Preferred Meats in Oakland, in addition to selling to a handful of local restaurants committed to helping Gleason.

“For the last 2+ years, my sister and I have been working tirelessly to transform Gleason Ranch into a financially viable business and a model of local, sustainable ranching. In our world of industrialized agriculture and competitive markets, this would be a challenging endeavor in any circumstance. But we have built up a sustainable ranching operation, established a great brand, and attracted a loyal following of supporters and individual and wholesale customers,” said Prebilich.

Sustainability, it seems, is only viable as long as the ranchers can sustainably support themselves.

If you’re interested in helping…
A Day of Artisan Butchery, Oct. 15. A benefit for Slow Food Solano’s school gardens project, the Farmer-Veteran-Coalition, and Gleason Ranch.
– If you’d like a copy of the investor letter, please email Nancy.
– Ask your local restaurants to carry Gleason Ranch meats or patronize restaurants like h2hotel’s spoonbar, Oliver’s Markets or the Stark’s restaurants who have demonstrated a commitment to Gleason Ranch.
– If you’re a chef interested in carrying Gleason Ranch meat, please contact Gleason Ranch