MALT Partners with Hog Island Oyster Company to Protect Historic Tomales Bay Ranch
June 2, 2021
POINT REYES STATION, Calif. — The Marin Agricultural Land Trust (MALT), a pioneering farmland trust in California’s Marin County, announced today that it has closed an agricultural conservation easement with Hog Island Oyster Company (Hog Island) in Marshall, permanently protecting the 250-acre Leali Ranch for agriculture and cultivation of marine organisms. One of the premier producers of certified sustainable shellfish, Hog Island Oyster Company grows, harvests, shucks and sells oysters through its restaurants and other retail outlets.
“Hog Island’s Leali Ranch has tremendous agricultural, environmental and historical significance, and we share the owners’ desire to preserve and steward this beautiful land in perpetuity,” said Thane Kreiner, Ph.D., CEO of MALT. “Through this agricultural conservation easement, MALT permanently protects Leali Ranch and enables Hog Island to further invest in innovative circular production practices.”
“This MALT conservation easement provides us with an essential cash infusion to maintain and upgrade our operations, which were hard hit by the pandemic,” said John Finger, co-founder and CEO of Hog Island Oyster Company. “Beyond simply surviving, the easement affords us flexibility to do more — for our customers, staff, suppliers, the broader community and the environment itself.”
MALT Easements Preserve Local Agriculture
MALT uses agricultural conservation easements to protect Marin’s unique landscape and the food it generates. MALT works with ranchers and farmers as they steward agricultural land to provide public goods including clean air, clean water, carbon sequestration and biodiversity. The Leali Ranch easement provides special protection to creeks and riparian areas, and requires that 240 acres of the ranch’s rangeland remain in agricultural production.
MALT agricultural conservation easements have generally been funded by a combination of public grants and private donations. To accelerate closing, MALT fully funded the transaction costs and the $1.1 million purchase of the easement from Hog Island Oyster Company to help the enterprise weather a devastating drop in business that occurred when the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered its restaurant dining rooms.
The easement on Leali Ranch protects 240 acres of rolling grasslands, rocky outcrops, steep wooded hillsides, freshwater springs, seeps and significant wetland habitat along Tomales Bay; allows for mariculture support infrastructure such as oyster holding tanks and solar-powered water cooling systems; and provides for a residence in the 10 acres closest to Hog Island’s bayside facility.
For nearly a century, the Leali family grazed beef cattle and dairy cows on the ranch. Under Hog Island’s ownership, the land supports mariculture operations and organic cattle. Hog Island plans to grow organic row crops, plant lemon orchards and produce specialty food-grade salt.
Hog Island recently received Drought Resiliency & Water Security funding from MALT to develop additional water resources that support agricultural operations on Leali Ranch during the current and future droughts. With the easement, Hog Island will also be able to access MALT’s Stewardship Assistance Program to restore and protect riparian areas and implement carbon farming practices.
Innovative Business Model Generates Widespread Benefits
Hog Island Oyster Company, founded in 1983 by two marine biologists, has always taken a long-term view in its operations. The company invests in sustainable farming and business practices and participates in scientific research in areas such as ocean acidification, restoration of native oyster populations and the effects of climate change on growing shellfish.
“We own and operate California’s first permitted oyster shellfish hatchery, which creates millions of sustainable seed oysters as well as sustainable, living-wage jobs and careers,” said Finger. “From hatching through harvesting, sustainable oyster farming is a labor-intensive, hands-on process — one that ensures we send only our best oysters to market.”
As part of its circular production and consumption practices, Hog Island Oyster Company participates throughout the value chain, including:
- Optimizing each step of hatching, growing and harvesting oysters.
- Operating its own restaurants featuring its oysters and other products, in addition to selling its shellfish at local restaurants, farmers’ markets and other retail outlets.
- Offering ancillary products to its main oyster business, such as Bloody Mary mix, house-made pickles, shucking tools and, in the future, sea salt (produced on the Leali Ranch) and organic row crops such as lettuce.
- Exploring ways to use oyster shells and seaweed that’s inevitably harvested along with the oysters and other byproducts of the shellfish production process as forage for cattle, compost and chicken feed supplements, as well as for human consumption.
- Providing employment for 170 workers directly, while acting as a valued participant in the local economy that both employs and feeds hundreds more people.
With the easement for Hog Island, MALT has now protected 54,459 acres of Marin’s farmland from development for agricultural use, in perpetuity.
Marin Agricultural Land Trust is a nonprofit organization created in 1980 to permanently preserve Marin County farmland and establish Marin County as a thriving agricultural community in a healthy and diverse natural environment. Some of the Bay Area’s most highly acclaimed dairy and meat products and organic crops are produced on farmland protected by MALT, which totals more than 54,000 acres on 87 farms and ranches. To learn more about MALT, visit malt.org.
For Further Information Contact:
Jennifer Carlin, Director of Advancement, MALT, (415) 572-9101, [email protected]
Colleen Martell, Martell Communications for MALT, (408) 832-0147, [email protected]
Remy Anthes, Hog Island Oyster Co., (805) 452-3894, [email protected]