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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)

Wholesale customers include the Inn at Little Washington, local grocery chain Mom's Organic Market, Restaurant Nora in D.C. and chef Todd Gray's Equinox downtown.

Why does she do it?

A love of animals, even the ones she eats.

"I came to Virginia to make an organic, humane farm," she said. "There is an alternative to factory farming . . . and the intense suffering it causes all the animals."

It's just not clear if she can make money while doing it.

Ayrshire will lose around $1 million this year, mostly as a result of the expensive cattle operations.

"I can sustain the loss indefinitely," Lerner said. "But I don't want to."

Lerner's love of animals and farming goes back to her days living with relatives on a farm in the foothills of California. She was a nine-year 4-H all-star, owned a Welsh cob horse named Blackjack and raised her own herd of cattle.

She sold her herd in stages to pay her tuition at California State University at Chico, where the future capitalist studied comparative communist theory with a minor in Marxist economics.

She earned a master's degree in econometrics at Claremont Graduate School, followed by a joint master's degree in computer science and statistics from Stanford University. At Stanford, she and then-husband Len Bosack worked on breakthrough computer systems that helped build the Internet.

Cisco went public in February 1990. Even though she and Bosack owned a third of the company, Lerner, who was vice president of a customer advocacy group, was fired in August 1990; they left Cisco with $200 million. They plowed 70 percent of their Cisco stock proceeds into charities, with Lerner concentrating on helping animals.

Lerner said she isn't suited to working in an organization.


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