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Marin Voice: Measure A tax needed to protect Marin ranches

By Lynn Giacomini Stray, Al Poncia, Peter Martinelli and Albert Straus

Marin Independent Journal
Guest op-ed column

Posted:   10/14/2012 04:54:00 AM PDT


WHAT would Marin County be without its family farms? It's impossible to imagine.

Our farmland is an essential part of our economy, landscape and quality of life. It is central to what makes Marin so extraordinary and unique. Marin County Measure A, on the Nov. 6 ballot, ensures it will continue to be.

Given the county's location at the edge of a major metropolitan area, high land values are an unrelenting threat to the future of farming here.

Since 1980, a community-based nonprofit, Marin Agricultural Land Trust, has been saving family farms at risk of being lost forever. MALT has permanently protected 69 family farms and about 45,000 acres, nearly half of the at-risk farmland in Marin.

It has relied on half of its funding from thousands of individuals and the other half from government farmland protection programs. But state funding for farmland protection is rapidly dwindling and no new funding is in the pipeline.

Without MALT, many of these farms would have been lost and along with it the critical mass necessary for the rural agricultural economy.

Over time, farms and the fresh local food, jobs, stunning landscape and wildlife corridors would disappear, replaced by an extension of suburban development.

It has taken more than three decades to bring the farming and ranching economy back from the brink of extinction, when large development plans gained momentum and farmers thought selling their farm was the only option. Today the future of farming is bright as it continues to grow and diversify.

With MALT's help, the Straus dairy was able to transition to organic, becoming the first certified organic dairy west of the Mississippi.

This supported the founding of Straus Family Creamery and helped another business, Cowgirl Creamery, which uses Straus Family Creamery's organic milk to make its nationally celebrated cheeses.

MALT helped save the Dolcini Ranch, which now provides its grass-fed meat, pastured chickens and eggs and County Line Harvest produce to the community.

The Giacomini family was able to strengthen its business by launching its renowned Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Co.

MALT helped the Thornton family save it's 1,100-acre ranch, which supports a cattle and sheep operation. Today, sixth-generation farmer Marissa Thornton is re-starting its family dairy. The family had been forced to close the generations-old operation in an effort to settle onerous estate taxes.

The Poncia family worked with MALT to protect its ranch, and its Stemple Creek Ranch grass-fed meat brand is growing.

The Lafranchi family worked with MALT to save farmland that enabled it to launch the award-winning Nicasio Valley Cheese Co.

Young farmers are returning home to enter the family business, and first generation farmers are joining their ranks.

Yet half of Marin's family farms are still at risk of being lost. There is much work to do to ensure this legacy of protected farmland is protected for the future. Today, MALT can't meet the demand of the farms and ranches that need its help.

Marin County Measure A will ensure a secure, local source of funding is available to help save Marin's working farms and ranches. Please join the Marin County Farm Bureau and Marin's family farms in voting "yes" on Measure A.

Lynn Giacomini Stray's family runs Point Reyes Farmland Co.. Al Poncia's family owns Stemple Creek Ranch in Tomales. Peter Martinelli is owner of Fresh Run Farm in Bolinas and Albert Straus is owner of Straus Family Creamery in Marshall.