Ranch Manager Spotlight: José (Lolo) Dolores Cortez of Barinaga Ranch
March 17, 2021
A bustling sheep farm, the stunning 823-acre Barinaga Ranch raises lambs and sheep for meat and fiber on the eastern shores of Tomales Bay. These MALT-protected organic coastal pastures are part of a thriving community — they provide a livelihood for the ranchers and farmworkers who carefully manage the land, sequester carbon and safeguard essential wildlife habitat, all while creating a strong sense of place. This is felt by the owners, Marcia Barinaga and Corey Goodman, their employees and all those who visit the farm. One person who feels this acutely is José Dolores Cortez, also known as Lolo, the ranch manager of Barinaga Ranch.
Lolo grew up on a small farm in Jalisco, Mexico, tending to cows and horses with his family. He later moved to Guadalajara, Mexico, and then to California. It was here, while Lolo was living and working in Sonoma County, that he met Marcia through Marcia’s father in 2002.
Although Lolo’s ranching experience was limited to his early childhood years, his work in construction, gardening and a variety of other jobs, along with his innate creativity, curiosity and drive to work with his hands, led him to Barinaga Ranch where he would help Marcia and Corey jump start their operation and tend to the animals.
“He is so careful and such a voracious learner, we learned together in the early years,” Marcia noted.
From those early moments as a ranch hand, Lolo worked his way to becoming a trusted ranch manager, overseeing general operations and sheep husbandry, and taking care of the ranch from the soil up.
A Voracious Learner and Creator at Heart
Lolo is ambitious, passionate and caring. When he goes out into the pastures to tend to the sheep, he is in awe of the entire agricultural system — the inner workings of the animals, the grass, the natural elements, the fixed fence, restored trailers, the evidence of his hard work.
When Lolo isn’t caring for the sheep and monitoring pastures, he is immersed in farm projects and improvements. Marcia spoke of his work ethic and drive for continual learning: “He is always analyzing our procedures, finding the weak spots and making suggestions to improve.”
She also spoke of his gentle heart: “During lambing season, a 24/7 job for everyone on the ranch, Lolo is attentive and determined. He never gives up on a weak lamb and every year at least one lamb becomes his personal pet whom he saved at birth.”
When he’s not taking care of lambs or fighting invasive grass species, you can find Lolo at 10 a.m. Sunday mass playing his guitar for his church.
Lolo is a creator. His happiness is found working with wood and metal, turning unusable materials into functioning tools for the farm. Those close to him would claim him to be “mil usos,” an expression used in Mexico to describe a person who can do everything, someone with “a thousand uses.” He loves to dream up ideas and improvements and watch the whole process unfold by the way of his hands. Completely self-taught in mechanics, Lolo can often be found repairing farm machinery or building stalls and structures for the animals.
“Work More for Love and Not for Money”
For Lolo, managing the ranch is more than just work; it is what he loves to do and where he loves to be. He tends to the land as if it were his own, putting every ounce of labor and love into his daily tasks. Lolo’s love for the land and his job is evident when listening to him speak: “You’re not going to be happy anywhere if you work just for your job and money. Work more for love and not for money.”
He attributes this life view to his grandfather who ingrained in him the belief that if you love what you do, it’ll never feel like work. He acknowledges that not everyone is lucky enough to find that job, but he believes he has found it. He tries to instill this mindset into his two sons, Darwin and Jonathan, and dreams of starting a business with them that encompasses all of their passions.
Learn more about Barinaga Ranch and how in 2014 ranch owners Marcia Barinaga and Corey Goodman announced that they will be leaving their property to MALT, being the organization’s first land bequest.