How does a Silicon Valley entrepreneur wind up running a cattle ranch in a Northern California mountain town of 813 people in 2019? Then, how does that cattle ranch become the talk of Instagram?
Meet Mary Heffernan and Five Marys Farms.
In 2013, Mary and husband Brian made the biggest leap of their lives: selling their Silicon Valley home and buying the Sharps Gulch Ranch, a historic Siskiyou County property that has been a working cattle ranch since the 1860s.
Along with daughters Mary Frances, Mary Marjorie, Mary Jane, and Mary Teresa–who, with Mary the mom, comprise the five Marys–the Heffernans wanted the best possible beef for their Menlo Park restaurant business, and when they couldn’t find a provider that met their standards, they decided to raise it themselves.
Now, it wasn’t as much of a total stretch as it would be for, say, you or me. Brian came from a family of California ranchers, despite his background as an attorney. But opening a cattle ranch five hours north on the California/Oregon border was neither obvious nor easy for the Heffernans. While the original plan was to hire professionals and just drive up on weekends, after a few months they realized that they enjoyed their time on the ranch a lot more than their time in the city, sold their other Bay Area businesses, and moved to the ranch full-time.
They were all in.
Mary and Brian originally experimented with running retail operations at farmers’ markets and in front of friends’ houses, but it simply wasn’t enough to fund the business.
That’s when they realized that their farm business needed to go digital.
Mary quickly set up an ecommerce website and mastered social media, especially Instagram. With nearly 85,000 followers today, it’s become her primary way to communicate with fans and customers beyond Fort Jones, her town of 813. Mary’s stories are personal, funny, informative, and cover daily life with Brian, her four Marys, her livestock, her dogs and horses, running their retail operations, overseeing the Five Marys Burgerhouse (their Fort Jones restaurant), and getting in the occasional Five Marys Sidecar to celebrate another productive day on the ranch.
In the past year, she’s also covered the annual rodeo, cattle auctions, a bear attack on the livestock, family visits, their summer camp, and not one but two new businesses: an AirBNB they’ve opened in Fort Jones and their own meat processing facility they’re opening this year.
More profoundly, after fires devastated the areas surrounding Chico, CA, Mary organized other farms and ranches to deliver donated meat, vegetables, produce, and over $10,000 in grocery gift cards raised by her Instagram followers.
She’s not just selling meat, she’s building a community.
Starting in 2019, Mary is taking what she’s learned and helping other small farms and ranches find their own audiences around the world by launching a small business e-course on Mighty Networks.
“For small farms, it’s a big barrier to sell directly to consumers. I get so many questions from people, so I’m putting together a three-part e-course that will include access to our own little Mighty Network where people can compare notes on shipping boxes, where to get supplies, all that kind of insider info. I’m excited,” Mary told us.
From the fast-paced Silicon Valley life in Menlo Park to a town of just a few hundred people, the Five Marys story is proof that a great product will find its audience with a little social media savvy and a whole lot of love.