Celebrating the Amazing Women in Agriculture in Marin Country

Peter Fugazzotto - MALT

By Peter Fugazzotto, Director, Communications

March 7, 2024

While March is Women’s History Month, here at MALT we know we don’t need to wait for a holiday to recognize the vital role that women play in preserving agriculture, both here in Marin County and across the country.

In fact, women’s leadership in agriculture is built into MALT’s DNA: founded by two women, currently led by two more amazing women in our executive director and board chair, and with so many female ranchers and farmers participating in our land protection and stewardship programs, paving the way for others.

Today, we want to highlight some of these heroes of agriculture and acknowledge the positive change they’ve made in our community:

Ellen Straus and Phyllis Faber, founders of MALT, standing about the Straus Home Ranch and Tomales Bay.

Phyllis Faber and Ellen Straus, the dynamic duo of agricultural land conservation. When Phyllis Faber, a conservationist, and Ellen Straus, a dairy farmer, wanted to protect the at-risk farms and ranches of West Marin, they ended up doing so much more: creating MALT and helping catalyze the idea of agricultural land trusts across the nation.

Marcia Barinaga, continuing ancient shepherding traditions. Building on her Basque family heritage, Marcia Barinaga is the co-owner of Barinaga Ranch in Marshall. Raising sheep and lamb for food and fiber, Marcia continues the ancient shepherding traditions of her Basque family and ancestors with a focus on sustaining the land and community.

Portrait of Marcia Barinaga.
Janet Brown working her vegetable farm.

Janet Brown, the visionary of Bay Area heirloom tomatoes. Farming ten acres of land at MALT-protected Lafranchi Ranch, Janet Brown, is the co-owner and operator of All Star Organics. The farm produces a diverse array of heirloom and specialty crops for Bay Area restaurants and groceries, health food stores, curated specialty shops, and farmers’ markets, and helped get heirloom tomatoes on the culinary map.

Nancy Chaffin, wildflower hero. Every year, Nancy Chaffin opens up her MALT-protected Leiss Ranch to hikes so the public can experience the amazing display of wildflowers. Nancy and other botanists have identified more than 60 wildflower species on her property, including the rarer ones that grow on serpentine soil.

Nancy Chaffin sharing stories with a small group.
Portrait of Sue Conley

Sue Conley, a leader in West Coast artisanal cheeses. A co-founder of Cowgirl Creamery with Peggy Smith, Sue Conley has been a vanguard in Northern California’s artisan cheese industry. For her, cheesemaking was a way to showcase the locally-produced organic milk, often from MALT-protected lands.

Melissa Daniels, an innovative next generation rancher. With a passion for agriculture and land stewardship, Melissa Daniels exemplifies the innovation of next generation ranchers in Marin. Building off the legacy of her parents’ investment in Cow Track Ranch, she has expanded beyond beef ranching to include farm stays, events, honey, soaps, salts, and pasture-raised eggs.

Portrait of Melissa Daniels
Kitty Dolcini smiling at her home ranch.

Kitty Dolcini, investing in water for the next generation. Kitty Dolcini, owner of the Red Hill Ranch, knows the importance of water. With one of the largest privately owned ponds in Marin County, Kitty continues to invest in water infrastructure to build opportunities for the next generation of farmers, and to allow the ranch to support three organic crop farmers-, a beef cattle rancher, eggs, herbs and pollination bees.

Sally Gale, embracing conservation and agriculture. For Sally Gale, conservation and agriculture go hand in hand. As the co-owner of Chileno Valley Ranch, known for its beef and u-pick apples, Sally has a strong commitment to conservation, having restored creekside habitat and founded an effort to protect local newts.

Sally Gale smiling at her home ranch in Chileno Valley
Katie Gallagher feeding cattle.

Katie Gallagher, a dedicated community servant. For more than 25 years, Katie worked for the county as a school bus driver while also tending the family’s 337 acre beef cattle ranch — helping steward the community’s fresh water and habitat for endangered coho salmon.

The Giacomini Sisters, a family united over cheese. Lured back to the family farm from their various careers in business, Jill, Diana, and Lynn now own the Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Company. Known for its award-winning cheeses, the sisters continue to innovate with an on-farm culinary and educational center, a second creamery, and the use of robotic milking technology.

The Giacomini Sisters posing for the camera.
Tamara Hicks with a baby goat.

Tamara Hicks, connecting cheese and community. Inspired by the desire to preserve open space and agricultural land, Tamara founded the MALT-protected Toluma Farms, Tomales Farmstead Creamery, and the Daily Driver to connect people all over the Bay Area with Marin farms, cheese, and community.

Jessica McIsaac, fifth-generation rancher. Born into a ranching family, Jessica McIsaac proudly continues her agricultural heritage. Co-owner of the McIsaac Dairy, she helps raise and tend to the herd of 300 organic cows as well as running a pasture raised egg operation and has a popular farmstand. As a recipient of one of MALT’s DRAWS grants, she leveraged the funds to construct a model stormwater capture system on a barn roof.

Jessica McIssac and her family.
Molly Myerson working her garden.

Molly Myerson, championing locally grown food. Owner and operator of the Little Wing Farm on MALT-protected Black Mountain Ranch, Molly champions locally grown food. At her iconic farmstand near Point Reyes Station, Molly provides a cornucopia of fresh fruit and vegetables, flowers, and quail eggs to the community.

Lisa Poncia, sharing the gospel of grass-fed, grass-finished beef. A lawyer by training, Lisa Poncia is the co-owner of Stemple Creek Beef. From the home ranch in Tomales, Lisa has played a key role in bringing regeneratively-raised, sustainable meat direct to consumers as well as select retailers and restaurants.

Lisa Poncia and her family.
Julie Rossotti and her family.

Julie Rossotti, purveyor of pasture-to-plate. As a fourth-generation rancher, Julie Rossotti has a passion for producing food for her community. With a deep commitment to sustainability, she produces humane and pasture-raised veal, grass-fed goat, as well as duck and chicken.

Karen Taylor, sixth generation dairywoman. A co-owner of the MALT-protected Bivista Ridge Ranch and Bivalve Dairy outside of Point Reyes, Karen Taylor represents agricultural tradition in raising dairy cows like generations before and agricultural innovation by expanding operations to include the production of artisanal cheese and butter. 

Karen Taylor, surveying her ranch.
Marissa Thornton Silva in her dairy building.

Marissa Thornton Silva, building an organic dairy farm. Operating the 220-acre Silva Family Dairy, Marissa Silva chose organic operations for all the right reasons. She has a strong desire to protect the environment and the animals and to give consumers the confidence to know that their product is pure.

Vivien Straus, carrying on a legacy of preserving agriculture. The daughter of one of MALT’s visionary founders, Vivien Straus is equally committed to advancing the cause of preserving agriculture in Marin. Co-owner of Straus Home Ranch, Vivien Straus has rehabilitated historic buildings, restored wildlife habitat, improved soils quality, and created the Cheese Trail to promote local and California cheesemakers.

Vivien Straus sharing stories with a group.

Know a woman agriculturalist you’d like us to highlight on this list? Send us an email to outreach@malt.org so we can keep building this list of amazing women in Marin County agriculture.

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