Pisoni Family Farmers Larger than Life

The Pisoni name has been synonymous with family farming in Monterey County since 1952. That’s when Eddie and Jane Pisoni founded what would become their life’s work, Pisoni Farms, in the Salinas Valley. The couple launched their produce operation at the Breschini Ranch, where Jane’s family had been dairy farmers.

Eddie planted and farmed vegetable crops, starting with sugar beets, while Jane ran the front office and kept the accounts—a job she only recently gave up. For close to fifty years, Jane’s brother Saw Breschini drove the farm’s iconic red tractor.  Agriculture doesn’t get more family focused than Pisoni Farms, which is run today by Eddie’s grandson, Mark Pisoni.

In 2016, the family undertook a historic restoration project on the ranch. The barn where Saw used to milk cows—before the ranch was planted to produce—is well over a hundred years old, and was badly in need of attention. Repairs to the roof, foundation and siding were completed in spring, but the family’s preservation efforts didn’t stop there.

Capturing the Art of Farming

“What started as a basic barn repair has transformed into the introduction of a new South County landmark,” wrote Monterey County Weekly reporter Mark Anderson. That’s because the Pisoni and Breschini families commissioned local artist John Cerney to create a barn-sized tribute to the man who first planted a family farm that’s been flourishing for three generations.

Cerney’s mural is a building-size portrait of Eddie Pisoni, Saw Breschini and that red tractor. The mural is composed of more than 1,000 twelve-inch square pieces of scrap wood. Cerney painted each panel in his studio, then worked with a team of four to assemble and attach them to the side of the barn that faces southbound Highway 101. The mosaic effect of the mural is striking, and a big hit with locals and passersby.

Mark Pisoni, who farms both Pisoni Farms and Pisoni Vineyards, has been fielding calls from fans of the barn art since the scaffolding came down.

“My grandfather loved farming and loved this ranch,” Mark told Monterey County Weekly. “I look at the mural every day and think of him on the side of that barn, looking over his fields. I hope that he would be proud of the job we are doing.”

From the Valley to the Highlands

As the family business grew, Eddie Pisoni enjoyed working the farm with his son Gary and grandsons Mark and Jeff beside him. When Gary decided to branch out to a few acres of ranch land high above the valley floor, Eddie wasn’t in favor of the move.

Gary’s dream was to become a grape grower and vintner. But when he planted his first vineyard in 1982, farming grapes on the rocky, fog-drenched slopes of the Santa Lucia Mountains was unheard of. His parents thought he was nuts. Not only did he want to grow grapes, he aspired to make world-class wine.

Gary believed that the cooling influence of the Monterey Bay made conditions in the Santa Lucia Highlands akin to parts of Burgundy—and perfect for growing Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Now three decades into the experiment, Pisoni Estate is producing some of California’s most coveted fruit and some of the country’s finest wines.

Today, Mark is happy overseeing both wine grape and vegetable farming for the family business, building on both his father’s and grandfather’s dreams. Sustainable family farming in Monterey County is where his heart lies. “It keeps me in two different worlds and more tied in with the different kinds of agriculture we have here,” he recently told Western Farm Press.

The mural stands in colorful tribute to the modern history of family farming in Monterey County, from “salad bowl” to vineyard heights.