Agriculture, Environment

MALT Welcomes Thane Kreiner, Ph.D., as New CEO

March 30, 2021

Today, MALT welcomes Thane Kreiner, PhD, as its new CEO. Much in the world has changed over the past 40 years since the Marin Agricultural Land Trust was founded. While our mission remains the same — working to preserve farmland in Marin County for agricultural use forever — there are exciting opportunities and challenges that lie ahead, and Thane is the ideal candidate to steer MALT forward.

A little background on Thane: Over an illustrious career spanning nearly 30 years, Thane has served as CEO, executive director, board director and independent advisor for multiple organizations. He spent 10 years as executive director of Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship at Santa Clara University, one of the world’s leading social enterprise accelerators.

Before that, Thane spent 17 years starting, building and running life sciences companies, including the pioneering biotech firm Affymetrix. He serves on the board of Conservation X Labs, which spurs innovative solutions to end human-induced extinction, and recently co-founded the Black Corporate Board Readiness program, designed to accelerate diversity in corporate governance.

In recognition of this exciting milestone, Thane sat down with six current and former MALT board members — Tamara Hicks, Paul Martin, Peter Martinelli, Bob McGee, Lisa Poncia and Andrew Riesenfeld — to discuss MALT’s pioneering accomplishments so far and its plans for the future.

Bob McGee: Thane, on behalf of the board and staff of MALT, welcome!

Thane Kreiner: Thanks! I have some pretty big ideas when it comes to MALT’s future. But you have all been here a lot longer than I have and I have a lot to learn. What do each of you see as MALT’s most important accomplishments so far?

Andrew Riesenfeld: As you know, we were the first agricultural land trust in the U.S. Since our founding, MALT has preserved more than 54,000 acres in Marin County for agricultural purposes in perpetuity.

Peter Martinelli: Saving so much of Marin’s farmland for agriculture is a huge accomplishment.

Paul Martin: It’s a huge milestone. MALT has created a model for the protection of agricultural land that has worked well for 40 years.

Bob: That’s right. The two women who founded MALT, one an agriculturist and the other a botanist and active environmentalist, recognized the importance of preserving all those acres, keeping those lands in agriculture and the farming families on their land. Since then, MALT has helped create an awareness and appreciation for agriculture in the county.

Lisa Poncia: MALT has made agriculture a priority in our community — creating a vision and path for land conservation in Marin County, as well as a support system for local agriculture.

Tamara Hicks: The continuation of farming and ranching on these lands has provided the entire San Francisco Bay Area with sustainably-raised, nutritious and delicious milk, cheese, beef, eggs, chickens, vegetables and more.

Putting New Emphasis on Regenerative, Inclusive Food Systems

Thane: I think it’s really important that MALT pioneered the concept of agricultural land trusts in this country. With the impacts of climate change, agriculture is in a state of profound transformation.

What inspired me to join MALT is the convergence of MALT’s mission with my own passion to imagine regenerative, inclusive food systems that nourish the local community and afford dignified livelihoods for those who steward the land.

Lisa: Thane, that’s so interesting to hear you speak with such conviction about regenerative, inclusive food systems. But from what I know of your background, isn’t this a new area for you?

Thane: Yes and no. My vocation has always been guided by purpose and people. But it didn’t occur to me early on that I would be able to apply my education, my experience and my passions to address the most pressing problems facing humanity and our common home, this planet Earth.

During my decade leading Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship, our accelerator programs worked with more than 1,000 social enterprises from 100 countries that collectively improved, transformed or saved the lives of more than 450 million people across the globe. The social entrepreneurs offered solutions in areas including clean energy, safe drinking water, health, women’s economic empowerment and, yes, sustainable agriculture.

At home, I spend time nurturing our few acres in Sonoma County. It was overrun with invasive plants and is now a food forest teeming with biodiversity. I’m far from being a professional farmer, but I do appreciate the work that goes into growing food — and soil!

Building on MALT’s Legacy of Innovation

Tamara: Your whole professional career has been focused on bold innovation, and MALT was also founded on the principles of bold innovation.

Thane: That’s so true. Many of the farmers and ranchers in Marin are already leading the way in modeling sustainable agriculture and creating shared value for the community.

Peter: Historically, MALT has focused on protecting farmlands through easements for interested ranchers and farmers. Moving into the future, in addition to our historic, core business of easements, we need to continue our evolution into more of a stewardship organization — maintaining the integrity of the easements while also helping ranchers and farmers to be successful in their businesses.

Bob: That’s right. I think that MALT should continue to build upon the legacy created in our first 40 years by stewarding the land already under easements and continuing to protect more acreage through additional agricultural easements. MALT also needs to take a leadership role in helping farmers be environmentally and economically viable for many generations to come.

Tamara: In addition to the global threats of climate change, the world faces a loss of small-scale, sustainable farms. MALT can play a role in helping landowners to steward their lands while facing droughts, fires and other environmental challenges that come with our changing climate.

Paul: In the short term, the current drought is a huge stressor for our farmers and ranchers, and MALT needs to help these folks survive. Longer term, we can help them with infrastructure improvements, conservation stewardship, landscape protection, resource enhancements — things that don’t generate a quick return to cash flow but that are crucial for them to remain economically viable.

Andrew: I see it as both a responsibility and an obligation for MALT to share our stewardship best practices as a blueprint to promote regenerative agricultural practices, globally.

Local Agriculture Can Improve Lives — and the Future of Food

Thane: One of my first goals at MALT is to meet with the farmers and ranchers to learn how we can help support their successes and create playbooks for new farmers in Marin County and beyond.

Paul: We’re all ready to explore new concepts, tools and technologies across the entire spectrum of land trust endeavors, including things we haven’t thought of yet, to provide the forever stewardship of land that MALT has committed to. Thane, I see you as a solid force to lead us into the future, so the next generation of farmers and ranchers, and those who follow them, will have the opportunity to be successful.

Lisa: If MALT has taught us anything so far, it’s that agriculture and conservation go hand in hand. I’d like to see us investing in the next generation of local agriculture, building on our investment in the previous generations. MALT can use its talent and connections to increase the use of regenerative agricultural practices in Marin County and beyond.

Bob: I’m even more excited about MALT’s future now that you’re on board, Thane. Building on the legacy of MALT’s first 40 years, I see us spurring innovations related to economically and environmentally sustainable farming in the context of our changing world and climate. I also think it’s important to focus on increasing diversity, equity and inclusivity among all our stakeholders, and establishing collaborative relationships with local, regional, national and international partners.

Thane: That kind of talk is music to my ears! I’m eager to learn from our diverse communities how MALT can help drive racial and food justice and co-create experiments that can inform the future of food systems.

MALT has a unique opportunity to model this future. The way we practice agriculture can be a major force in Marin County becoming carbon-negative, or at least carbon-neutral, before mid-century. It’s possible to imagine innovations along the entire agricultural value chain that provide economic returns for those living on the land while generating nourishing food. Collective and inclusive action will be essential, and partnerships will be core to our strategy.

Lisa: I envision MALT pushing the boundaries of climate science, supporting agriculturalists in Marin County and beyond, and strengthening our systems through connections not only among environmentalists and agriculturalists, but also with eaters. After all, not everyone can be a farmer or rancher, but we all eat food!

Thane: Yes, and each of us has a responsibility to know where our food comes from, whatever we choose to eat. Local food production offers opportunities to understand the origins of our meals and the impacts on our health, the health of our ecosystems and the health of our society.

MALT is a pioneering platform with clear purpose and an incredible group of people with shared values. I am eager to see what we can accomplish together.