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California Cheese Trail

 

Jensen Ranch

Bill & Eileen Jensen Ranch, Tomales

Save More Farms - donate nowThe Jensen Ranch is one of the oldest continuously operating ranches in Marin County. Bill Jensen is the 5th generation of his family to live and work there. Today he raises sheep and replacement dairy cattle on the 179-acre spread.

"My great, great grandfather immigrated here from Belfast, Ireland in 1856 and settled on the ranch that I live on. My father named me William Irvin Jensen: William, which is my great, great grandfather's first name, Irvin which was my great grandfather's surname, and then Jensen, my grandfather's last name. So that's how far the family goes back."

Anna Jensen Ranch, Tomales

You can see Mount Tamalpais, Mount St. Helena, the Sonoma Mountains, and the Pacific Ocean from a hill on the Anna Jensen Ranch in Tomales. It's a view Anna cherishes, and one she wants to preserve, so this spring she sold an agricultural conservation easement to MALT, making her family's 320-acre ranch the 45th in the county to be protected forever from non-agricultural development.

Anna and her husband Irvin began leasing the ranch in 1966. Anna recalls how hard Irv worked at building corrals and loading chutes, putting in waterworks and electricity, and carrying out the hundreds of other small and large improvements and renovations it took to turn the neglected ranch into the up-to-date operation it became. Sometimes she was out there with him, feeding the animals and helping to build fences while also raising sons Bill and John and daughter Diana. In 1976 the Jensens were able to purchase the property.

Anna herself was born in Ignacio where a two-lane road that is now Highway 101 ran past the front door of the service station, post office, and local switchboard operated by her parents. When she was six years old, they moved onto a family dairy behind the station. Anna was a tomboy who rode horseback and attended the one-room Ignacio School.

The ranch was sold to accommodate the expansion of Hamilton Field, and the family moved to San Rafael. For a while, she was a "town" girl, attending San Rafael High School and working after graduation. She and her future husband met at a Portuguese festival in Novato. They were married in 1950 and moved to Tomales where Irv's family had been ranching since 1856. Irv had a dairy and, later, a business buying and selling cattle. Eventually, he began raising dairy heifers and sheep.

Irv died in 1982 of Lou Gehrig's Disease, but the Jensen sons took over where their father had left off. They finished paying for the ranch, and today, the picturesque spread is home to a small herd of replacement dairy heifers and about 400 sheep. John now lives on the ranch with his son Nick, while Bill and his family live on the nearby home ranch which was handed down to Irvin from his parents and then to Bill who also raises sheep. (In 1992, Bill sold MALT an agricultural conservation easement on that ranch.)

Last August, Anna moved back into the house in downtown Tomales that she and her husband bought in 1953 and where they lived for 25 years before moving into the ranch house. Her home is about halfway between her sons' ranches, and Bill and John still pick up the phone and call her when they're short-handed and need help working the animals.

But making a living on the land can be a struggle. The price for wool is low, so most ranch income comes from the sale of lambs for meat. "There's so much pressure on our way of life out here, but I'd hate to see [the ranch] broken up into parcels," Anna says.

By selling an easement to MALT, Anna felt she could help the family keep the place she and her husband had worked so hard to buy. "My father used to always say, 'When you grow up, buy land. They're not making it any more. Now I know the ranch is still going to be there. And," she laughs, "I get to be a town girl again."

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Watch a short film about life on Jensen Ranch.

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MALT members gathered on Jensen Ranch for our Directors' BBQ in 2013. View photos»

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