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Save an Acre

MALT Protects “Next Generation” Ranch

Historic farmland is a critical part of the Stemple Creek Ranch

June 20, 2013

Pt. Reyes Station, Calif.:  Today Marin Agricultural Land Trust (MALT) announces that it has permanently protected 440 acres of historic farmland near the town of Tomales. This land is a part of the 920-acre Poncia family farm, which is home to the family’s business, Stemple Creek Ranch. Stemple Creek sells grass-fed beef and lamb to butcher shops, grocery stores and direct to people throughout the Bay Area.

The 440-acre ranch has been in the Poncia family since the early 1900s when Angelo “Pa Nono” Poncia purchased it after he migrated to West Marin from Italy. Today, Loren Poncia and his wife Lisa oversee the ranch with Loren’s parents, lifelong ranchers Al and Cathie Poncia.

“Now we’ll be able to save the ranch for the next generation,” says Al. “MALT gave us an alternative to selling.”

Like many farming families, the Poncia family faced losing the ranch when they inherited it from Al’s aunt a decade ago. Its pasture is critical to the Stemple Creek Ranch business. But to hold on to the farmland, they would have to pay a nearly $1 million inheritance tax. This posed a “terrible burden” for the small business, says Al.

Unfortunately for farming families in Marin, the tax amount is based on the market value of the land for residential development rather than for agriculture. Even though families can opt to go through a complicated IRS “alternative valuation process” to reduce the tax, as the Poncia family did, it does not reduce it close enough to its true agricultural value.

Marin’s ranch properties face a very high risk of conversion to estate development, which threaten Marin’s local food, wildlife and scenic rural landscape. Just down Highway 1 from the ranch, an 850-acre ranch was sold to a San Francisco real estate investment company. The company broke up the land and listed three separate parcels for $2.5 million each.

“Protecting this ranch is very important,” says MALT Executive Director Jamison Watts. “It’s managed in a way that is beneficial for the land, wildlife and livestock. And the family has developed a sustainable business model that makes their products available to people year round. What they have done is create the next generation ranch that is both agriculturally viable and environmentally sustainable at the same time.”

Protecting the ranch will enable Loren, a fourth generation rancher, to carry on what his great grandfather Angelo “Pa Nono” Poncia started more than a century ago.

“Without MALT, we would have been forced to sell the ranch, or break it up to continue ranching,” says Loren. “MALT gave us the ability to hold onto it and keep ranching.”

Protection of the ranch was made possible by MALT’s community of supporters, the United States Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resource Conservation Service Farm and Ranch Land Protection Program (FRPP) and the California Department of Conservation, which together contributed to the $1.4 million price of the agricultural conservation easement. The easement is a legal tool that preserves the ability of the land to be used for agriculture by prohibiting uses inconsistent with food production.

Individual donors and family foundations contributed $676,000, FRPP contributed $528,000 and the California Department of Conservation contributed $250,000.

“The protection of the Poncia family’s livelihood and preservation of farmland is an important goal for all Californians, and the DOC is pleased to be a part of it, says Department of Conservation Director Mark Nechodom.

“The Poncias are part of the backbone of agriculture’s conservation community in Marin County,” said Charlette Epifanio, District Conservationist for NRCS in the area. “In fact, Al Poncia received the first national NRCS Rancher of the Year award for his tireless work promoting water quality on ranches. Stemple Creek runs right through the Poncia property and I can think of no better caretakers for the creek and the ranch than the Poncias. They prove you don’t have to choose between feeding people and taking care of the environment. Protecting this ranch forever is the right thing to do.”

Now that the ranch is protected, Loren and his family can look to the future.

“There are continual trials and tribulations with a ranch business. It’s hard work,” say Loren. “But we are passionate about the land. Protecting it is a huge commitment for our future. I don’t want this to end with me. I want the next generation to be excited about coming back home to the ranch.”

About MALT: Marin Agricultural Land Trust is a member-supported nonprofit organization created in 1980 to permanently preserve Marin County farmland. Some of the Bay Area’s most highly acclaimed dairy and meat products and organic crops are produced on farmland protected by MALT conservation agreements, which total more than 46,000 acres on 72 family farms and ranches. To learn more about MALT, visit www.malt.org.

About USDA NRCS FRPP: The USDA’s Farm and Ranch Land Protection Program (FRPP) provides matching funds to help purchase development rights to keep productive farm and ranch land in agricultural uses. Working through existing programs, USDA partners with State, tribal, or local governments and non-governmental organizations to acquire conservation easements or other interests in land from landowners. USDA provides up to 50 percent of the fair market easement value of the conservation easement. For more information, please go to www.nrcs.usda.gov.

About California Department of Conservation: The Department of Conservation provides services and information that promote environmental health, economic vitality, informed land-use decisions and sound management of our state's natural resources. For more information, please go to www.conservation.ca.gov.