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Thacher Ranch, Tomales

623 Acres MALT-Protected Since 2014

save farms donate todayUp near the Marin-Sonoma border, the Thacher Ranch lies at the end of a dry and dusty dirt road, winding past whitewashed wooden fences, coast live oak, red-winged blackbirds, and dozens of heifers who pause momentarily from their grazing to stare at passing cars with mild curiosity.

Dense thickets of California native plants enfold nearly the entire stretch of Chileno Creek that passes through the ranch, providing habitat to steelhead trout and supporting the reemergence of endangered Coho salmon, recently spotted in the adjoining Walker Creek for the first time in years.

This stunningly serene land, known locally as the Rocky Canyon Ranch, is part of a 9,800-acre contiguous MALT-protected circle of farmland around the town of Tomales.

James Thacher, a prominent attorney in San Francisco, and his wife Gladys, the founder of the San Francisco Education Fund and other successful nonprofit organizations, purchased this 623-acre ranch and 700 ewes in 1964.

“Jim lost his heart to the ranch, and would go up nearly every weekend to tend the sheep,” recounted Gladys. 

Will Thacher“My father was an active weekend rancher and loved it,” explained Will Thacher, Jim and Gladys’ son who manages the ranch for his family. Will started ranching on weekends in 2007 with his father. After Jim passed away, Will became even more involved in the ranch, and today splits his time between sheep and his business in San Francisco.

Today Will leases 500 acres of his land for cattle grazing, keeping the remaining 125 acres for his flock of 40 Suffolk-cross ewes, primarily for meat production. In 2013, Will purchased 40 head of East Friesian sheep, planning to eventually start a small-scale milking and artisan cheesemaking operation. 

The Ranch Stays Whole

“Before Jim died, he wanted to put the ranch into MALT – this was his greatest wish,” says Gladys. “It’s also very good for our estate planning – I’m 85, and I’m trying to make wise choices about passing the ranch on. I have four children, and it’s very important that we keep the property whole, not subdivided. MALT meets our emotional wishes and our financial planning needs.”

Selling the ranch’s development rights was “the right thing to do,” agrees Will. Having witnessed the devastation of unchecked development in San Diego, he imagines a different future here in Marin County. “What’s really amazing in the Bay Area, especially Marin, is you can drive from the San Francisco metropolis and within 25 minutes you’re in an open pasture. In this day and age, with all the pressure of development and population, it takes an organization like MALT to preserve these surrounding areas.

“MALT creates a valuable link between agriculture and land protection. They’re not saying we have to clear the land of animals, but instead are encouraging uses that keep families in ranching and still allow wildlife to cross all the way to the ocean.”

“This ranch is knit into our family, as it has been for many generations of settlers before us,” says Gladys. “Every weekend that I can, I make a pilgrimage to celebrate the beauty of the seasons there.”

Photos and More

Thacher Ranch was a beautiful setting for our 2014 Field to Fork Summer Supper. View a slideshow »