Cisco co-founder Sandy Lerner now sells organic turkeys at Ayrshire Farms in Va.

Sandy Lerner owns Ayrshire Farms, an organic farm near Middleburg. "If you are not eating heritage-breed [turkeys], you are eating a hybridized, genetically engineered freak," she said.
Sandy Lerner owns Ayrshire Farms, an organic farm near Middleburg. "If you are not eating heritage-breed [turkeys], you are eating a hybridized, genetically engineered freak," she said. (Margaret Thomas For The Washington Post)

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By Thomas Heath
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 14, 2010; 10:20 PM

Is there a second act after founding Cisco Systems?

Sandy Lerner has starred in a second and a third.

After being fired from the Silicon Valley computer networking company in 1990, six years after she helped start it, Lerner created a line of punk cosmetics she later sold for a hefty profit.

Now 55, the no-nonsense entrepreneur, self-described cattleman and onetime socialist is deep into her third career.

She runs Ayrshire Farms near Middleburg. The $7 million-a-year business includes 3,000 certified organic, certified humane, heritage-breed turkeys now giving their lives for next week's Thanksgiving holiday.

I grew up on Butterball and Plainville turkeys at Thanksgiving and Christmas, and I confess to not caring much about eating organic.

Lerner thinks I'm nuts.

"If you are not eating heritage-breed [turkeys], you are eating a hybridized, genetically engineered freak," she said. "You are what you eat."

Her turkeys aren't cheap: A 22-pounder runs $230, and even then she doesn't make money on it.

Ayrshire tries to raise its animals as close to traditionally as possible. No chemicals, hormones or other artificial additives reach her flock, which includes 800 head of cattle, hundreds of pigs, hundreds of veal calves and thousands of chickens. Ayrshire doesn't even string overhead wire, out of concern it might shear the wings off dive-bombing eagles and hawks.

Ayrshire is a vertically integrated business with 100 employees - from bartenders to a soils engineer - across seven business units.

Its Home Farm Store in downtown Middleburg sells its humane heritage meats, in addition to other locally grown and organic goods. There is a catering business, and a mansion for weddings and celebrations. You can book a ride on a restored horse carriage for $650 an hour.


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