Agriculture, Food, Land Protection, Ranching

Profile in Preservation: Paradise Valley Ranch

January 13, 2020

When you think of MALT farms and ranches, do you imagine golden, rolling hills and pastures with grazing dairy cows? Or perhaps beef cattle scattered among oak woodlands? Or maybe woolly sheep and wheels of cheese? Well, there’s another kind of MALT ranch we want you to know about — the kind that produces fresh local vegetables!

The fertile floor of Paradise Valley Ranch near Bolinas was first certified as organic row crop land in 1983; Peter Martinelli’s Fresh Run Farm, which he operates on the ranch, continues this tradition. From deep green kale to squash and sweet strawberries, this farm produces organic fruits and vegetables for iconic Bay Area restaurants Quince, Cotogna and Verjus. Peter’s sought-after produce is just part of the story here; Paradise Valley Ranch has a rich history as well.

Organic Farming in Bolinas

Peter is a third-generation landowner. His grandparents purchased this land along Pine Gulch Creek in the 1940s, and his father raised beef cattle on the property in the 1950s. Much of the ranch was then transitioned to artichokes until 1983, when organic farming pioneer Warren Weber began leasing land here to grow fruits and vegetables. Peter started Fresh Run Farm in the 1990s on a quarter acre, ultimately taking over the entire ranch’s operations in 1999. In the years since, Fresh Run Farm has flourished, thanks to his flavorful produce.

Paradise Valley Ranch is a fitting name for this lush, productive landscape. Forty varieties of produce sprout in orderly plots and orchards, surrounded by a riot of wild blackberry bushes, mushrooms and nettles. Equipped with a comprehensive habitat management plan, this ranch is home to northern spotted owls, which nest in stands of mature Douglas fir and redwood, and endangered California red-legged frogs and threatened steelhead trout, which take refuge in the shaded banks and pools of Pine Gulch Creek.

Peter’s success on this relatively small farming parcel near Bolinas is no small feat. With fields and forests around the town of Bolinas being converted into weekend retreats, organic farming in this delicate ecosystem is a challenge. Just an hour north of San Francisco, property values in this area are high and climbing, putting pressure on local farmers like Peter to sell their properties.

“My family and I want to see the ranch remain unchanged for generations to come.”

Peter Martinelli

Partnering With MALT For Conservation

But the Martinelli family didn’t want to sell. They wanted to make sure their family farm stayed in agriculture for the long haul. In 2010, they approached MALT to protect Paradise Valley Ranch from estate development with a conservation easement. And in the years since they chose to partner with MALT, their ranch has continued to thrive with a commitment to, in Peter’s words, “work in harmony with nature.”

Once MALT helped to secure the Martinelli family’s future on the ranch with the protection of a conservation easement, they have been steadfast in their commitment to organic farming and habitat protection. The family also played an integral role in a groundbreaking initiative, The Pine Gulch Watershed Enhancement Project, to protect native fish in Pine Gulch Creek, which flows through Paradise Valley Ranch on its way to Bolinas Lagoon.

Peter, working closely with neighboring farms, MALT, the Marin Resource Conservation District, the National Park Service and other agencies, engineered a fish-friendly water storage solution on Pine Gulch Creek to protect juvenile Coho salmon and steelhead trout during the dry season, when his row crops at Fresh Run Farm need the water too. Now he and his family — and neighboring farms — divert water into storage ponds on their properties, filling them during winter storms and leaving the creek undisturbed throughout the summer months in order to preserve fish habitat. The ponds also serve as rainwater catchments and have the added benefit of creating more wetland habitats that enhance the overall ecological values of this ranch.

“My family and I want to see the ranch remain unchanged for generations to come. As a farmer, I see the rich bottom land, climate and water resources in the Pine Gulch drainage as an agricultural resource that is the ultimate gift to leave to future generations of Marin residents.”

Peter Martinelli

Protected For Future Generations

Thanks to the Martinellis’ collaborative stewardship, MALT was able to secure a $1.5 million grant from the California State Wildlife Conservation Board to purchase the easement on Paradise Valley Ranch. Generous donations from the Bolinas community and MALT supporters brought in another $1 million. And the Martinellis are so committed to preserving Bolinas’s agricultural way of life that they donated more than half the value of the easement, a tribute to their grandparents, the Honorable Jordan L. Martinelli Sr. and Genevieve C. Martinelli.

With MALT protection, the ranch’s future is secure, as is that of the wildlife that call this place home.

Eat Veggies From Fresh Run Farms

Fresh Run Farm produce is served at San Francisco restaurants Quince, Cotogna and Verjus.

Learn where to buy products from all MALT-protected ranches:

malt.org/buy-local