A city entrepreneur turned rural entrepreneur teaches other ranchers and their kids how to grow their brand and launch their own businesses
Prior to her current title of rancher, Mary Heffernan spent years in the Bay Area as a founder and CEO. She successfully opened and ran 10 small businesses with her husband, Brian. The endeavors include a tutoring center, floral shop, and two farm-to-table restaurants. Now, she’s singularly focused on all things Five Marys Farms. The name honors that Mary and her four daughters were all named Mary after strong and memorable grandmothers and aunts on both sides of the family.
The transition from city life to farm life started more than seven years ago. The ranch was supposed to be a weekend destination and a solution to sourcing quality meats for their restaurant customers. On one of those long commutes, Mary and Brian decided to move the family from Silicon Valley to Sharps Gulch Ranch, a 160-year-old livestock farm in Fort Jones, California, at the top of the state in Siskiyou County. While a lot of things were left behind in Los Altos (they went from living in a 5,000-square-foot house to a 780-square-foot caretakers cabin), what did come with them is Mary’s passion for finding business opportunities. Currently, Mary runs Five Marys Burgerhouse, Five Marys Meats, Camp Five Marys, M5 Entrepreneurs Small Business Academy, and M5 Ranch School.
Launched in 2020, Mary created the M5 Ranch School to share “the skills and lessons my children are learning through ranching and raising animals, with other kids all over the world.” M5 Ranch School focuses on teaching age-old skills and vocational skills, such as candlemaking, welding, leatherwork, gardening and breadmaking. The school also has lessons on ranch life tips, such as using tractors and farm implements, tree harvesting, and hunting. Lessons are presented through videos and include printable lessons, how-to books, and activities for all learning levels.
To date, more than 5,000 students have attended M5 Ranch School, and the ages of the students range from preschoolers to lifelong learners. Kimberly Walker, mother of five daughters (ages 15 months, 5, 8,10, 11) living in Eddy, Texas, was looking for activities to add to her daughters’ homeschool curriculum. She added the M5 lessons because of the video components and well thought out lessons and worksheets. Walker explains: “The Ranch School has inspired us in a lot of ways. The ‘all about chickens’ workshop helped us to quit putting off getting chickens. The girls learned how to create a chicken coop, and we got baby chicks.”
The older sisters have participated in almost every workshop, ranging from candlemaking to leatherworking to cooking lessons. They applied what they learned to their own shop, 5 Sisters Handmade. Now they sell their candles and leather goods in a local shop and are looking forward to selling at their town’s craft fair. Kayrie, age 10, says the M5 lessons are “fun because you get these worksheets that help you figure out how much things are going to cost and how you can turn things into a business.”
Mary is also committed to empowering the parents of the M5 Ranch School young entrepreneurs. A few years ago she created The M5 Entrepreneurs Academy, an e-course that offers video modules, workbooks, downloads, resources and access to a community of like-minded adult entrepreneurs. This course options include everything from growing a small business from scratch, especially in the agricultural arena, to branding and social media and shipping. There’s also an online community to connect with, and Mary and Brian regularly host live Q&A sessions.
Hannah & Daniel Neelman, of @ballerinafarm, members of the Academy, said they found Mary early in their journey to become new ranchers and attended a workshop in her program. They’ve grown their business from nothing to booming in under three years by following the advice and guidance in the M5 Entrepreneurs course.
Mary inspires others because she knows what it’s like to build something from scratch. In 2014, when the family started living at the ranch full time, they spent hours watching YouTube videos, reading books, conversing with neighbors, and relying on advice from Brian’s brother-in-law, a fifth-generation cattle rancher from Eastern Oregon. When they bought the ranch, there was very little infrastructure like fencing, irrigation, or livestock pastures or pens. They had to build most everything from the ground up, including silos to store feed, new pole barns for winter hay storage, and watering systems for the animals and pastures. Improvements are still happening, especially with the vintage farmhouse, which was built in 1868.
One doesn’t have to be enrolled in M5 Ranch School or the M5 Entrepreneurs course to learn from Mary. Followers of @fivemaryfarms on Instagram can also get a front-row seat for the real-time lessons taught at the farm. A few months ago, Mary was filming the delivery of 10 piglets and letting her almost 200,000 followers know exactly what was going on during the experience. Things got a little tense when there was a long period of time in between piglet births, but Mary assisted and all the piglets survived. The entire experience is shared as an Instagram highlight and shared with M5 Ranch School.
Mary is hoping to increase her reach when it comes to teaching. She recently recorded 10 episodes of her new podcast, Boots & Bangles, which she is co-hosting with her sister Ann Williams, founder of Yearly Company, which sells 14-karat gold jewelry. The episodes focus on the lessons they have learned while running their small businesses. Some topics include being entrepreneurial at a young age. In junior high, Mary launched Mary’s Summer Fun Camp and hosted 15-20 kids in her backyard each week with games and activities, making a lot more money in those hours than she could have babysitting all summer. Lessons from the early days are sprinkled in with advice around starting before you think you are ready, hiring slow but firing fast, and successfully using influencer marketing as a small brand.
Mary has learned a lot from others willing to share their knowledge, and now she’s just as passionate about sharing her experience and skills with other entrepreneurs. A few years ago, she shared that knowledge with Hannah Klitz, founder of Oak Barn Beef. Hannah was a recent college grad looking for an internship and ended up interning at Five Marys Farms. During that summer internship, Mary helped Klitz launch her own successful business selling and shipping her ranch-raised beef all over the country. “Nothing excites me more than seeing a young or aspiring entrepreneur start their own successful business,” Mary says.