MALT Protects Fallon Ranch
September 21, 2015
Pt. Reyes Station, Calif. – Marin Agricultural Land Trust announced today the protection of Fallon Ranch in Tomales, placing 186 acres of coastal pasture and cropland under permanent protection from subdivision and development.
As a young man, owner Scott Murphy learned how to care for the land by working alongside his father and grandfather as they improved their land on the Point Reyes Peninsula. “When I bought this place in 1979, there were practically no trees here—just a few eucalyptus up on the ridge,” Scott said. “The creek was just this ditch, kind of green slime into September. I’ve planted thousands of trees over the years, fenced in the creek, put up windbreaks—the place really looks a lot better now.”
These days, a bright ribbon of green announces Stemple Creek’s meandering passage through Fallon Ranch on its way to the Pacific Ocean at the Estero de San Antonio. The estero is protected as part of the Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary, one of the most diverse and bountiful marine environments in the world. The trees that Scott has planted protect water quality upstream of the estero, keeping cattle out of sensitive fish and wildlife habitat along the creek. The willow-shaded stretch of stream through Fallon Ranch has seen the return of 20 different bird species, just one indication of the restoration’s success.
Scott made hundreds of improvements to the ranch over the years: He sank wells, installed storage tanks and water troughs, built fences and corrals, and had the entire ranch certified organic. “For a small piece of land, it’s pretty well set up,” said Scott. He currently leases most of the ranch’s farmland and pastures to other local producers: Larry Peter, who owns the Petaluma Creamery, grazes dairy cattle on 120 acres of gentle, grassy hills. Tomatoes and squash grow on 4 acres of irrigated farmland. David Little, owner of Little Organic Farm, leases 23 acres for dry-farmed potatoes, and another 35 acres is leased for silage.
Small ranches in scenic enclaves like Tomales are at high risk for development, as the market for country estates heats up throughout the Bay Area. Fallon Ranch, with access from two main roads and already divided into two legal parcels, was especially vulnerable. Anne Murphy, who co-owned the ranch with Scott, is moving out of the area and needed to sell her half of the ranch. But neither of them wanted to see the ranch split up. Had that happened, it’s not likely Scott would have been able to maintain a financially viable operation on the land that remained in his ownership. Marin County could have lost 186 acres of vitally important farmland, along with the measureless benefits of Scott’s careful stewardship and expert knowledge of his land.
Scott has been considering an easement on his ranch since at least 1994, but decided to hold off for financial reasons until now. “I was saving that easement until I really needed it. I’m glad that MALT came along, because that could have been a real sad moment if I couldn’t have kept the ranch together,” said Scott. “MALT has been stand-up in their efforts to make this happen.” Proceeds from the sale of a MALT easement will enable Scott to buy Anne’s half of the ranch, consolidate ownership, and keep its fields and pastures in production. Like all MALT projects completed since 2011, the Fallon Ranch easement also includes a Mandatory Agricultural Use provision, which stipulates that the land must remain in productive agricultural use.
Fallon Ranch was protected with a $200,000 grant from the Natural Resources Conservation Service Agricultural Land Easement program and a $412,000 grant from the Marin County Farmland Preservation Program. Generous donations from individuals, businesses and foundations covered the remaining $213,000. “Land suitable for tilled row crops is a rare and precious resource in Marin County,” said Carl Somers, chief of planning and acquisition for Marin County Parks. “Marin County Parks is thrilled to have the opportunity to help see that it’s a resource that will be safeguarded forever at Fallon Ranch, thanks to the foresight of the Marin County voters who passed Measure A. Without the Measure A-funded Farmland Preservation Program, we simply would not be in a position to provide local public matching funds to mission critical projects like this one, and inevitably some of these opportunities would be lost.”
“NRCS is proud to partner with Marin Agricultural Land Trust to preserve this incredible property,” said Carlos Suarez, NRCS California state conservationist. “The land will continue to benefit from diverse agriculture and be a haven to local wildlife without threat from future development.”
“Fallon Ranch has high quality soils and the owner has taken great care of his land and water resources,” said MALT Executive Director Jamison Watts. “It’s not a large ranch, but its location—on the banks of a significant creek and near a 9,800-acre block of MALT-protected land—makes it a valuable piece of Marin’s agricultural landscape. We’re thrilled that this special place will remain farmland forever, and we absolutely could not have accomplished this without the support of Marin County, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, and MALT’s dedicated supporters.”
About MALT: Marin Agricultural Land Trust is a member-supported nonprofit organization created in 1980 to permanently preserve Marin County farmland. 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 nearly 48,000 acres on 76 family farms and ranches. To learn more about MALT, visit www.malt.org.
About the Marin County Farmland Preservation Program: Marin County voters widely approved Measure A, a quarter-cent sales tax, in 2012. Measure A revenues support the maintenance and improvement of Marin County Parks, farmland and recreation programs. Roughly $2 million per year is set aside through Measure A to support the Marin County Farmland Preservation Program, which works to permanently protect Marin’s agricultural lands through the purchase of easements. For more information, visit http://www.marincountyparks.org/depts/pk/about-us/main/measurea.
About the United States Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service: NRCS Agricultural Land Easements (ALE) program funds are provided to eligible entities to cost-share the purchase of conservation easements that protect the agricultural use and conservation values of privately owned land. Eligible lands include cropland, rangeland, nonindustrial private forestland, pastureland, grasslands of special environmental significance and options focused on areas of high sage-grouse populations. Approved agricultural easements would prevent productive working lands from being converted to non-agricultural uses and maximize protection of land devoted to food production. Landowners are encouraged to work with a local eligible entity to apply for the program, such as a land trust or local government agency that has funds to match the ALE program.
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