“A day in Marin.” Say that out loud to someone from California’s Bay Area, then stand back and watch the reaction. “Well, I could reschedule that meeting, move some things around…” It’s something you want to do, someplace you want to be. And agriculture is a big part of the reason that’s true. California is dotted with locales like this, each with its own enticements and attractions, its own “sense of place.” How lucky we are – farmers and eaters alike – to share this exceptional state.
Yesterday, I spent a day in Marin County at the invitation of the Marin Agricultural Land Trust (MALT), which works with local farming families to preserve ag lands and protect them from development. We toured an assortment of farms as well as processing and retail sites that illustrated, simply and without fanfare, just how integral our farming and ranching families are to the identity of Marin and so many other California communities.
I met dairymen and women whose great-great-grandparents started out as farmworkers on someone else’s dairy down the road. On these dairies, the cows still wear ear tags with handwritten names. I walked up and down hills and bluffs, from a barn full of silage to another full of experiments aimed at making a more nutritious kind of ice cream (yes, you read that right), to yet another housing the pipes and hoses for a dairy digester. Farmers, I was reminded, are part investor and part inventor. They are also parents, leaders and friends. They are passionate about what they do.
I spoke with entrepreneurs such as an oyster farmer on the coast who has doggedly found ways to protect and grow his business by watching for opportunities to invest and hire and expand, and by constantly learning about his “crop” and his customers. I met another gentleman who might be classified simply as a meat processor by our regulations, but he does so much more – he manages a restaurant and retail outlets, he handles the shipping and marketing, and he painstakingly sources an impressive array of livestock and poultry, all raised to his exacting specifications, from farmers and ranchers whom he sincerely calls friends.
As we made our way around, over and through the windswept hills and valleys that make up Marin, it became clear that most of these folks know each other. They share stories about generations and past partnerships, about kids who went through 4-H and FFA together, maybe got married, maybe took over the family business. “Competitor” is a word you seldom hear in this line of work, and Marin County is a place that teaches you why – because agriculture it isn’t a line of work as much as it’s a way of life.
Californians are fond of saying how lucky we are to live here, and it’s true. A good deal of that is down to Mother Nature and her singular talent with paint and clay. But yesterday, on my daylong tour of Marin County agriculture, I saw example after example of the things that we, as Californians, have also done to make this place so singular. California’s farmers and ranchers, its farmworkers and artisan cheesemakers, its conservationists and its “oyster entrepreneurs” – each of these and so many more have played a role in creating the exceptional place that California has become.
Places like Marin are California – unique, blessed, impossible to summarize, well worth preserving, and essential to our state’s enduring allure.