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THE NORTH SHORE OF O‘AHU IS KNOWN FOR ITS WORLD-CLASS WAVES, PHOTO-READY BEACHES, AND WIDE OPEN SPACES... AND GREG PIETSCH, owner of Sunset Ranch, which sits high on top of Pupukea overlooking the ocean, wants to keep it that way.
Born and raised in Hawai‘i, Pietsch became an accidental advocate for conservation when he purchased the 30-acre parcel of land for the ranch from his grandmother in 2005. “My initial impulse was to subdivide the land,” Pietsch says, pointing to the most obvious way to cover his costs while keeping a plot of his own. But as he went through the approval process, dividing up the property, which had been in his family since 1960, became less appealing. “I fell in love with the land and wanted to explore other options,” he says.
One opportunity Pietsch, an investment banker with a focus in mergers and acquisitions, found intriguing: he stumbled upon government grants that would help property owners retain ownership of the land in exchange for giving up development rights in perpetuity. “I got a fire in my belly and my thought process shifted to ‘O.K., as opposed to getting the property subdivided, if I can make the economics work and protect the land, what if we were to establish a ranch as a model or platform to advance not only these land conservation platforms but also a true sustainability model,’” he says.
Fast forward through a tricky two-year approval process—these type of grants had never been utilized in Hawai‘i—and Pietsch set out to run the ranch as a four-pronged outfit. The events department— perhaps the most visible operation— throws everything from weddings to private dinners to wellness tours on the expansive property. Horsemanship programs, with an emphasis on therapeutic and leadership-building experiences with groups such as Wounded Warriors and HUGS, make up another element. Farming and native forest restoration in collaboration with Waimea Valley Park round out the offerings.
The last eight years have involved some recalibration on Piestch’s part. A planting of 800 coffee seedlings failed. Overcoming tropical pests for in-ground farming proved challenging. But other opportunities not originally in his business plan, such as an 60-tree avocado orchard, a native fern restoration plot, and an aquaculture pond for tilapia, are now thriving.
For Pietsch, it’s the intangible elements, such as native koa planting ceremonies for terminally ill children in the HUGS program, that have provided the most reward. “That’s why I’m doing it,” Pietsch says. “I’ve done so many deals and projects and it doesn’t come close.”
Going forward, Pietsch wants to bolster his offerings and use the ranch as model for land conservation. “It’s been 12 years and I feel like in many respects we’re still in the beginning stages—especially in regards to food and sustainability—but we’re continuing every year to strengthen all four pillars,” says Pietsch. “For me, the important thing is the balance.”
And in the meantime, beyond the big picture projections, Pietsch says with a laugh, “I like to spend days [at the ranch] getting my hands dirty.”
Sunset Ranch Hawaii is excited to introduce the Private Dining Experience! We're confident this experience is one of the most private and elegant tour offerings on Oahu. Guests are provided exclusive access to Sunset Ranch for a tour on ranch history, land conservation and sustainability, a private photo shoot and an exquisite locally sourced meal. Please review our brochure and menu options below for more details. We're so grateful to be working in partnership with Chef Elmer Guzman to provide this unique tour experience in Hawaii.
Please contact us at [email protected] or (808)638-8333 for more information or to book your Private Dining Experience today. Whether a surprise proposal, anniversary, holiday or some other special occasion, we would absolutely love to host this elegant experience for you. Mahalo nui loa for your interest and support in Sunset Ranch Hawaii.
Shot on location at Sunset Ranch on the North Shore, Oahu-based photographer Daeja Fallas and stylist Lindsey Higa offer stylish looks for the modern woman, showcasing this season's designer looks and shining a light on Hawaii-based designers and artisans.
Inside North Shore's Sunset Ranch: Cultural tours, weddings and dreamy views
A historic ranch house preserves and perpetuates this beautiful landscape.
By Matthew Dekneef April 7, 2017
You could call it untouched today, tomorrow and forever. On the North Shore of Oahu, quietly looming at 900 feet above sea level over Pupukea, an illustrious ranch house has helped tell the stories of natural conservation, Hawaiian culture, local farming practices and modern day weddings, and will in perpetuity.
This is Sunset Ranch, a sprawling 30-acre property, which has a stake in keeping its manicured pastures completely undeveloped so all of Hawaii’s residents and visitors can enjoy this region of the North Shore, mainly through educational tours and events.
“My goal here is to share a message of sustainability and advance its efforts,” Greg Pietsch, the owner of Sunset Ranch, says, nodding at the vast yellow-gold fields through the picture window of a dining room. Off to the left, a fishpond ripples, waiting to be turned into a farmable aquaculture operation. To the right, an animal psychologist walks a stallion over a hillside as part of its required monthly checkups on site.
We’re in the property’s 1970s plantation-style ranch house, the centerpiece of its grounds, which at this moment also doubles as Pietsch’s workspace. Leaning against the walls are poster-size blueprints of Sunset Ranch and the Pupukea ahupuaa (land divison), demarcating the region’s boundaries with notes referencing complicated state zoning laws written in the margins.
For a layman like me, these annotations fly way over my head, but for Hawaii conservationists and politicians, it’s what Pietsch is most known for. Twelve years ago, his negotiations with the state of Hawaii and the Trust for Public Land in turning the land into a private conservation easement that prohibits any development here has set a precedent and become a model for other landowners interested in doing the same. For this reason, Pietsch appropriately refers to the ranch as “a passion and a labor of love.”
“The tours we offer are the most effective way to tell that story,” Pietsch says, believing it integral to team up with local organizations to share its land-based narratives. “We want to get the community engaged and excited. There’s been a lot of growth in the past three years.”
Currently, Sunset Ranch hosts 120 events a year, 70 percent of them being weddings. It’s very easy to see why. Stately stallions graze in the meadows. The sky, approaching the five o’clock hour is a copper color hue. A cliffside lookout over Haleiwa is sheltered with more than 150 varieties of Hawaiian ferns. Sunset Ranch is a fairy tale landscape.
Most distinguished, though, are its stables, a space that can be outfitted as a decorous event space. Decked out with long, wooden dining tables and a hanging glass chandelier, the location is truly love at first sight for brides and grooms looking for an unmatched wedding venue.
My first visit to the ranch occurred on the tours Pietsch speaks so enthusiastically about. Last year I found myself on two of them: The Sunset Ranch Wellness Tour, a nature walk through the grounds; and the Farm-To-Table Experience, which ends with a locally sourced three-course meal in a botanical garden.
On the former, Hawaiian culture leads the wellness narrative. Our guide, Tristan Reynolds, a founder and the farmer of Hawaiian Fresh Farms, invites us to a spread of endemic and indigenous plants used in laau lapaau, the Native Hawaiian practice of herbal medicines. Later, under the shade of a cool forest nestled mauka (toward the mountain) of Sunset Ranch, Reynolds explains how Hawaiians used the sap of the alaa, an endemic tree, to trap colorful native birds, pluck a feather or two to create feathered capes for the alii (royals), then release the animals back into nature. My fondest memory is later venturing into a hillside spilling into Waimea Valley to plant an alaa seedling. As part of the reforestation, people in our tour group kneel at the tree’s muted green oblong leaves, taking turns pouring water into its soil as Reynolds offers an oli (chant) for its growth. Unexpectedly, Sunset Ranch has become one of the most beautiful classrooms I’ve attended in my adult life.
Sunset Ranch continues to branch into assisting the nonprofit sector by creating unique initiatives that serves the local community. “Everything we do is therapeutic and leadership-based,” he says, of the various programs it’s since created with the Wounded Warrior Project, Boy and Girl Scouts and nonprofits serving keiki (children) with autism and life-threatening illnesses. In collaboration with HUGS, a familial support group for seriously ill children, Sunset Ranch assists with a program to grow native koa trees on property in memory of children who’ve passed on, becoming a place their parents continue to visit over the years.
What’s next for Sunset Ranch? Pietsch’s dream is to make its infrastructure a completely sustainable food resource for all its events programming and tours, “and to get off the grid with power and water too,” he says. “We’re hoping to do all that in the next three to four years. We want to establish this place as a model or platform.”
For tour information, call (808) 638-8333 or visit sunsetranchhawaii.com.
HONOLULU, June 30, 2015—During International Year of Soil, this month is dedicated to raise awareness on how soils support recreation. At Sunset Ranch in Pupukea, the 27-acre property is home to a horse ranch, coffee plantation, citrus orchard, mixed produce farm, aquaculture, and botanical garden. Of the 27 acres, 12 are dedicated to pasture with five acres of riding field for their specialized program that incorporates horses for personal growth, learning, and healing.
Sunset Ranch is one of few agricultural operations that have conveyed a perpetual agricultural conservation easement to the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in partnership with the North Shore Community Land Trust and the City and County of Honolulu. The property was preserved for agriculture through the Farm and Ranch Protection Program (FRPP) which is now incorporated under the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP) administered by NRCS and authorized by the 2014 Farm Bill.
In addition to the preservation of this agricultural land, Sunset Ranch has a conservation plan with NRCS and the West Oahu Soil and Water Conservation District. The plan includes integrated pest management, micro irrigation, mulching, critical area planting, prescribed grazing, and heavy use area protection. These conservation practices will help to reduce erosion, protect water quality, and manage weeds.
"This is a wonderful example of how an agricultural easement has protected prime agricultural land and helped diversify operations on a ranch known for its equine training and therapy programs, as well as its scenic views," stated Bruce Petersen, NRCS Director of the Pacific Islands Area. NRCS is the federal agency that provides voluntary technical assistance for conservation and restoration of natural resources on private agricultural lands. Established in 1935 as a response to the Dust Bowl, the Soil Conservation Service (SCS) evolved to the Natural Resources Conservation Service to protect, restore and enhance soil, water, air, plants, and animal resources, with human social, economic and cultural considerations. In 1937 Soil Conservation Associations, now called Soil and Water Conservation Districts (SWCD), were authorized by President Roosevelt to act as local partners to the Federal SCS, and can plan and carry out local programs for soil conservation, flood prevention, water management, outdoor recreation, and other purposes within their boundaries. Hawaii has 16 SWCD’s on eight islands.
NRCS, SWCD, and conservation cooperators such as Sunset Ranch, have been dedicated to conserving and enhancing the natural resources on private agricultural properties for decades, and this means starting with the soils that support and enable agricultural production and recreational activities, such as found at Sunset Ranch. To learn more about the programs and services of NRCS, and how we are celebrating International Year of Soils, visit www.pia.nrcs.usda.gov. USDA is an equal opportunity provider and employer.Jolene Lau Public Affairs Specialist Natural Resources Conservation Service United States Department of Agriculture 300 Ala Moana Blvd., #4-118 Honolulu, HI 96850 (808) 541-2600 ext. 135 www.pia.nrcs.usda.gov