Leading Back to Nature
When expecting guests at Miramar Farms, a coastal retreat near Half Moon Bay, the owners send a welcome packet with driving instructions.
“Take a deep breath,” the instructions suggest, before you hit the one-lane road. I immediately visualize a steep, narrow passage with a cavernous drop-off to one side. But after spending two Zen-like hours at this farming paradise, I realize that the deep breath isn’t to steady your nerves. More cleansing, like a yoga breath, it’s an invitation to rid your mind and body of any stress before you begin your journey of discovery.
In the age of smartphones, social media and virtual connections, it may seem illogical, nearly paradoxical, that executives from high value start-ups and established for-profit and nonprofit companies would turn to an 11-acre farm as a place to define their corporate strategies and build winning leadership teams. After all, the property’s website doesn’t even mention wi-fi or connectivity as a major selling point (though they do have it).
What it does offer is a unique outdoor setting for businesses and those who power them to renew, reconnect and find fresh inspiration.
Jayne Battey, co-owner with her husband, Mark, explained that their mission is to “grow sustainable, resilient leaders for a complicated world.” When the Batteys bought the property in 1994, they didn’t imagine it as a “corporate day camp” for leadership and team building. It was simply their family home, one a bit removed from the harried pace of Silicon Valley.
Both Mark and Jayne had highly successful corporate careers serving both the for-profit and nonprofit worlds—Jayne as a leader in the environmental sciences with a track record of building strong leadership teams and Mark a finance expert who served as chief deputy controller for the State of California. Both hold advanced degrees from the London School of Economics.
Having worked together previously, in 2012, the couple decided they wanted to give back to the corporate world from which they had gained so much. They searched no farther than their backyard: Miramar Farms.
In 2013, they officially launched Miramar Farms as a leadership development and executive education center. (Jayne is careful to point out that it is not a wedding or party venue). Serving groups from eight to 32, they offer exclusive use of the grounds for each client and will facilitate the meetings or just stay behind the scenes, whatever the client desires.
While the site offers a large gathering room for meetings and plenty of quiet spots on the grounds for quiet reflection or breakout sessions, it’s also an active farm.
Honeybees, chickens, a vast vegetable garden, fruit trees, new pumpkin and squash fields, a small orchard and an herb garden enhance the grounds. Walking trails lead to a tea house and covered outdoor room that Mark built. Each outdoor room offers stunning views of the farm and the Pacific Ocean.
And that’s just the surroundings. Other perks include fresh-from-the-farm food for breakfast, lunch and snacks. Head Chef Robin McKnight strives to serve only local food, so whatever isn’t grown onsite is purchased from nearby purveyors.
The day I visited, Chef Robin was experimenting with snack plates exploding in vivid color. She parboiled and lightly salted fresh vegetables and crisped up herbs to lend them texture. Herb-roasted nuts and pistachio-studded chocolates also appeared.
In addition to her deep experience in leadership development, Jayne’s skills extend into the kitchen as well. She’s a top-notch baker and prepares the granola, cookies and breads served onsite.
Most groups take a break from their working sessions to tour the grounds and see, touch and learn about the food Miramar grows and serves for lunch. Jayne noted that “guests go through a transformation over the course of a morning—from arriving tense and distracted to slowing down and becoming relaxed and connected. The change is visible: Shoulders lower, laughter is lighter and people look at each other when they talk.”
“We’ve been very intentional about creating a simple, natural and beautiful environment for visiting leadership teams,” she adds. “We help our guests create community. I think that’s the real magic of the farm.”
With farmland at a premium in the Bay Area and corporate pace so accelerated, Miramar Farms is a rare natural resource. It reminds us that productivity, creative thought and problem-solving may only be one cleansing breath away.
Miramar Farms also employs a full-time program coordinator and farm manager. And if clients want to get their hands dirty for one of their team-building exercises, the host team will gladly arrange work breaks that include creek restoration, collecting eggs or planting in the garden. Learn more at MiramarFarms.com.