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Conservation partnerships protect Marin farmland

Courtesy of Rob Buelteman/POST, Bolsa Beach
January 2, 2008
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Two keystone Marin ranches—Tomales Farm & Dairy and the Poncia Ranch—will remain working farmland with the help of agricultural conservation easements acquired by Marin Agricultural Land Trust (MALT) at the close of 2007.

Protection of the Tomales Farm & Dairy property, located southwest of the town of Tomales, and of the Poncia Ranch, located south of town on the ridge above Tomales Bay, has long been regarded as vital to the area's agriculture heritage. These easements represent MALT's continued dedication to the protection and enhancement of agriculture in Marin County where escalating land values can make the sale of farmland for non-agricultural uses a tempting alternative to the risks of small-scale farming.

Tomales Farm & Dairy

Formerly the Cerini Ranch, the Tomales Farm & Dairy property is the gateway to the town of Tomales along scenic Highway 1. Last year MALT acquired an easement over a 178-acre portion of the ranch on the east side of Tomales through a combination of MALT funds and a generous donation of easement value by the owners.  In December 2007, MALT acquired a second easement on an additional 243 acres for $1 million. This easement precludes development on six of seven potential building sites that could have had a drastic effect on the character of the town and environs. Now, the property will remain working farmland.

Tomales Farm & Dairy already has installed 9,000 feet of new fencing to protect and enhance seasonal water quality in Keyes Creek, which transects the property and flows to Walker Creek. The property is currently the seasonal home for Tomales Farm & Dairy¹s herd of Shorthorn cattle.

Tomales Farm & Dairy's principal owners are John Williams and Long Meadow Ranch, owned by Ted, Laddie, and Christopher Hall. MALT acquired the easement at a significantly reduced cost, as Tomales Farm & Dairy donated $1 million of the appraised value of the easement. This donation was made possible in part by the increased tax incentives provided by the Pension Act of 2006. The State Coastal Conservancy provided $750,000, with MALT members and donors contributing $250,000. In addition, MALT received a $15,000 grant for project costs from the California Council of Land Trusts.

"With the protection of these properties we are pleased to be preserving and enhancing the historic agricultural character of the Tomales community. While we still have many hurdles to overcome, our dream is to make cheese from milk produced by seasonally grass-fed cows," said Ted Hall of Tomales Farm & Dairy.

Poncia Ranch

The 750-acre Poncia Ranch has been in the family since 1915, and was operated as a dairy until 1991. The ranch, which is visible from Highway 1, borders Walker Creek, a major tributary to Tomales Bay.

Gene Poncia lives on the ranch and raises beef and dairy replacement cattle with help from his son. Gene owned only a 50 percent interest in the ranch on which he was born and wished to pass on to his son. MALT's purchase of the easement enabled Poncia to acquire the other 50 percent and ensure the agricultural future of the ranch. "Four generations of Poncias have lived here," says Gene.  "This agreement keeps the ranch in the family."

MALT raised $2 million to preserve the historic ranch: $500,000 came from the Natural Resources Conservation Service Farm and Ranchlands Protection Program, a federal program that protects farms having prime and unique soils or historical or archaeological resources. The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and the State Coastal Conservancy both contributed $750,000 to preserve the ranch.

"This unprecedented level of support by state and federal agencies and private philanthropy represents an outstanding commitment to the conservation of important agricultural lands and a high degree of confidence in MALT's ability to work with landowners to preserve Marin County farmland," said MALT Executive Director Robert Berner.

"Working farms are important to the economy and heritage of West Marin.
These conservation easements will help ensure that the area's farming tradition remains alive and well," said Sam Schuchat, executive officer of the State Coastal Conservancy.

"I applaud the efforts and commitment of the landowners, partners, and individuals that helped secure the easements for the Tomales Farm & Dairy West property and the Poncia Ranch," said Ed Burton, state conservationist for the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service. "This illustrates once again how conservation partners working together from a strong conservation ethic can get a lot more done than any of us could have individually."

 

About Marin Agricultural Land Trust

Marin Agricultural Land Trust is a member-supported, nonprofit organization created in 1980 by a coalition of ranchers and environmentalists to permanently preserve Marin County farmland. Some of the Bay Area's most highly acclaimed dairy products and organic crops are produced on farmland protected by MALT conservation easements, which total 40,000 acres on 61 family farms and ranches. To learn more about Marin's family farms and the foods they produce, visit http://www.malt.org.

About USDA - Natural Resources Conservation Service's (NRCS) Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program (FRPP)

USDA - Natural Resources Conservation Service's (NRCS) Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program (FRPP) is a voluntary easement program that protects productive agricultural land by purchasing conservation easements to limit conversion of farm and ranch lands to non-agricultural uses. NRCS partners with state, tribal or local governments, and non-governmental organizations to acquire conservation easements or other interests in land from landowners. For additional information visit:
http://www.ca.nrcs.usda.gov/programs/frpp.html.

About the California Coastal Conservancy

The California Coastal Conservancy is a state agency working with the people of California to protect and improve the coast and San Francisco Bay. The Conservancy has helped open more than 100 miles of coast and bay shores to public use, and preserved more than 300,000 acres of wetlands, wildlife habitat, parks, and farmland. Visit http://www.scc.ca.gov/

About the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation

The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, established in 2000, seeks to advance environmental conservation and cutting-edge scientific research around the world and improve the quality of life in the San Francisco Bay Area. For more information, visit http://www.moore.org.

About John Williams

John Williams is the owner of Frog's Leap Winery, which is firmly committed to leading by example. Solar-powered and organically farmed, the Rutherford-based family operation produces handcrafted wines that are deeply reflective of the soils from which they emanate.

About Long Meadow Ranch

Long Meadow Ranch, family-owned by Ted, Laddie, and Christopher Hall, is an innovative, organic farming operation and purveyor of fine food  that is located high above the Napa Valley in the Mayacamas Mountains, where it produces elegant and balanced wines, extra virgin olive oil, grass-fed beef, eggs, and heirloom fruits and vegetables.