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Collaborative student restoration project at Straus Home Ranch protects streams and creates habitat 

Ninety kids with shovels, plants, and a plan can get some real work done on a ranch. This time around it happened at the Straus Home Ranch, located a stone’s throw from the shores of Tomales Bay.  

The Home Ranch is the birthplace of both Straus Family Creamery and MALT, and where Bill and Ellen Straus raised a brood of children: Albert, Vivien, Michael, and Miriam.  Today, Albert runs the dairy and creamery, while his sister Vivien devotes herself to protecting and enhancing the heritage and natural resource values of the Home Ranch. Caring for 166 acres of pastures, farm fields, coastal streams and ponds takes a lot of hard work and planning. For Vivien, it’s a labor of love and an opportunity for sharing.

STRAW at Straus Home RanchLast December, Vivien welcomed students from Manor School (Fairfax) and Ross Elementary School to plant 30 box elder, coffee berry, toyon, and elderberry plants along two streams that flow directly to Tomales Bay. The kids also planted more than 30 willow sprigs and built a wall made of interwoven willow branches to help stabilize the stream's banks and provide habitat for nesting and migratory birds.

“There was great momentum once we got started," said Guy, a 4th grader from Ross Elementary School. "It just took off and you wanted to do more and more, and the same thing will happen with the habitat we helped create.” 

This hands-on learning experience was made possible by the Students and Teachers Restore a Watershed (STRAW) Program, who for 20 years has organized “Children’s Brigades” of restorationists to improve wildlife habitat and water quality on working farms and ranches in Marin County. The STRAW program was started by a teacher looking to inspire her young pupils through environmental awareness and community service. Originally housed in The Bay Institute, the STRAW program in 2010 was adopted by PRBO Conservation Science, one of the Program’s long-time organizational partners.

In 2012 alone, STRAW staff worked with 3,500 children and their teachers to complete 40 stream restoration projects.  Along with managing the “Children’s Brigades,” STRAW staff organize an annual Watershed Week with Bay Area teachers to select important environmental education topics for the year and to develop supporting classroom curricula. Topics over the last few years have ranged from global climate change to the importance of protecting native species of plants and animals. To date, Bay Area kids have restored over 25 miles of stream corridor habitat, and many of these projects occurred on ranches protected with a MALT conservation easement.  

On the Straus Home Ranch, funding for Vivien’s restoration project was provided by MALT, the Marin Resource Conservation District, and the STRAW Program.

Working with inspirational partners like STRAW, MALT is committed to building its relationships with Marin County farmers and ranchers, Bay Area school children, and all of the important agencies and organizations that are dedicated to preserving and enhancing the cultural heritage and natural resource values of Marin County’s agricultural lands. We thank all our members and funders for making this continued work possible.