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California Cheese Trail

 

 

Stemple Creek Ranch, Tomales

440 ACRES MALT-PROTECTED SINCE 2013

Save More Farms - donate now“People say you can’t make a living as a rancher today,” says Loren Poncia. “But I enjoy a good challenge and I’m proud of the progress we have made.”

Loren, 38, is a fourth generation West Marin cattle and sheep rancher. He grew up on his parents Al and Cathie’s dairy, which they inherited from Al’s parents. A few years after Loren graduated from Cal Poly, he came home to work on the ranch. And he brought some new ideas with him, including starting a grass-fed, organic and community-based ranch. 

Today, he and his wife Lisa run Stemple Creek Ranch, selling grass-fed beef and lamb raised on certified organic pastures to butchers, stores, restaurants and direct to consumers throughout the Bay Area. Among Loren’s new ideas, he has worked out how to provide locally-raised meat year-round through rotational grazing, cutting his own grass feed and timing the breeding of his herd. In contrast, many companies truck their herds out of state or provide meat seasonally.

The ranch is a model in other ways, too. The family has long managed the land to promote native plant and animal biodiversity. Al received a Natural Resources Conservation Science Award from the USDA in 2002, honoring his life-long commitment to restoration and education on his land. Namesake Stemple Creek runs through the ranch, and the Poncias have taken great care to protect the health of the watershed. The Poncias are dedicated to the well-being of its land and animals alike – Stemple Creek Ranch is certified by the Global Animal Partnership for its stellar animal husbandry.

 For all the love and care that goes into the ranch, it’s often stressful and challenging to make it work financially. It takes someone like Loren who is dedicated, creative and willing to think outside the box. 

“We’re so blessed that we have Loren,” says Cathie. “Loren is so passionate about caring for the animals and the land.”

“Some people are born cow people and Loren is one of them,” agrees Al.

Staying on the Land

In the late 1890s, Loren’s great-grandfather Angelo “Pa Nono” Poncia emigrated from Italy to West Marin in search of opportunity and land. He found both, starting the Fallon Creamery in 1911.

The Poncias might have lost this historic ranch when Al’s aunt passed away in 2003 and they inherited it, along with a substantial inheritance tax bill. This posed a “terrible burden” for their small business, says Al. 

Unfortunately for farming families in Marin, the tax rate is based on the market value of the land for residential development rather than agriculture. Just down Highway 1 from the Poncias, an 850-acre ranch was purchased by a San Francisco real estate investment company. The company subdivided it and listed three parcels for $2.5 million each.

The same could have happened out on Stemple Creek. Marin could have lost a model ranch that provides many benefits to the community, from locally raised food to the preservation of a historic landscape and way of life. 

Instead, the Poncias turned to MALT.  In 2013, MALT raised $1.4 million toward the price of the agricultural conservation easement on a  440-acre parcel along Fallon-Two Rock Road. Individual donors contributed $676,000, and MALT was able to leverage these funds to raise another $778,000 from the California Department of Conservation and USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service’s Farm and Ranch Land Protection Program. 

With help from MALT, the Poncia family can focus on running Stemple Creek Ranch knowing that it is secure for years to come. “ We believe in local food and providing it to a community,” adds Loren’s wife and business partner, Lisa. “It’s a commitment—a commitment we’re willing to make.”

Loren’s middle name is Angelo after his great-grandfather. He feels a deep sense of responsibility for the ranch and carrying on the legacy that was started by his ancestor.

“I don’t want this story to end with me,” says Loren, who has two young daughters and many nieces and nephews. “I want the next generation to be excited about coming back home to the ranch.”

How to Purchase Stemple Creek Ranch Products

You can order shares of Stemple Creek Ranch meats online through their website, or purchase single cuts at the San Rafael Civic Center Farmers Market and at restaurants, butcher shops and grocery stores around the Bay Area. Find more information here »

Photos and More

View a slideshow of images from the Poncia's home ranch here »

Members of MALT's Corporate Circle learned about nesting waterfowl at Stemple Creek Ranch in 2013. View images»