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Thornton Ranch, Tomales

1,013 ACRES MALT-PROTECTED SINCE 2011

Save More Farms - donate nowThornton Ranch was settled nearly 160- years ago by Gary Thornton’s ancestors, the Marshall family, as part of the family’s vast original land holdings that once stretched from Bodega Bay to the town of Marshall (which they founded). When Gary’s father died in 2000, enormous estate taxes forced Thornton to sell off his dairy herd and nearly sell part of the property to developers in order to protect the rest. It would have been an inglorious demise of a farm with such rich history. As Gary said, “once it’s covered over, it’s not so easy to pull up asphalt and concrete.”

Thornton FamilyTogether, Gary and MALT navigated complex legal and tax options over nearly a decade and, in the end, successfully protected the ranch in perpetuity in August 2011. The 1,013-acre Thornton property maintains a sense of remoteness rarely experienced in today’s Bay Area. The emblematic rolling green hills are accessible by a narrow, 1.8 mile-long road that stretches and winds past towering eucalyptus and fields of lambing ewes and Black Angus cattle. On a clear day the ranch commands sweeping views reaching the Pacific Ocean to the west, and to the northeast, the geothermal steams of Geyserville.

When asked what the ranch’s future holds, Gary immediately turns to his youngest daughter Marissa. Recently graduated from college, Marissa is clear that the ranch has not just been saved from development, but for agriculture. Partnering with her father, Marissa—the 6th generation to steward this land— is already bringing new ideas. They’ve begun selling grass-fed local lamb to a few Whole Foods stores. Marissa is taking steps toward renovating the milk facilities—either to make farmstead cheese or to sell milk to other local cheese makers. She’s even experimenting with planting barley, a grain grown by the original Marshall brothers, for a local brewery. His oldest daughter Brianna might also have ideas for the future of their historic ranch.

MALT’s protection of the Thornton Ranch marks the near completion of an 8,000-acre agricultural “greenbelt” around Tomales. But more than that, the Thornton ranch will be around for generations to come.

How to Purchase Thornton Ranch Lamb

Thornton Ranch lamb can be found at select Bay Area Whole Foods Markets between May and August each year.