Introducing MALT’s New Strategic Pillars

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By Lily Verdone, Executive Director

April 10, 2023

I want to share with you the Marin Agricultural Land Trust’s (MALT) new strategic pillars, five areas of focus that honor our past work and respond to the needs identified by our community.

Since starting my new role as MALT’s executive director in August of last year, I have committed myself to listening to as many members of our community as possible. As part of this listening tour, I was fortunate to sit and spend time with Phyllis Faber, one of MALT’s cofounders, before her passing in January of this year. 

Forty three years ago, Phyllis and Ellen Straus — a botanist and dairy farmer — brought together local ranchers and conservationists to protect family farms from mounting development pressure. Their tenacity and foresight resulted in the birth of our organization, the first land trust in the nation focused specifically on protecting farm and ranchland.

I think we can all find inspiration in how two individuals of different backgrounds saw the value of protecting agricultural lands — to preserve a biodiverse landscape, a local economy, and a way of life — and brought a community together to act.   

Honoring the legacy and vision of our founders, we are excited to embark on the next chapter of our work which builds on their foundation of success.

To help guide these efforts over the next few years, we are organizing our work around five strategic pillars:

Preserving Agriculture

Conserve the most important farmland to support a thriving, economically viable agricultural community in Marin. 

Though times have changed, much of MALT’s work today is consistent with our origins — a focus on protecting agricultural lands and ensuring they remain in food and fiber production for their wide-ranging benefits to all. 

We will remain focused on preserving our agricultural lands, primarily through our conservation easement program, as seen with our recent protection efforts.

We will also dig into the future of what agriculture looks like for our community. What does agriculture in Marin look like in 20 or 50 or 100 years? Who is on the land, and what are the models of ownership and stewardship? What are the crops that will thrive? What does a diverse agricultural community mean? How do we preserve agriculture beyond protecting land?

Protecting Biodiversity 

Protect, restore, and improve agricultural lands to benefit wildlife habitat, landscape connectivity, soil health, and water quality.

The Bay Area is home to one of the most biologically diverse regions on the planet. Our work protecting private farm and ranchland is a key piece in safeguarding this vital ecological abundance. Each acre of land conserved in MALT easements builds upon the region’s growing network of protected land — a puzzle of private and public land that is greater than the sum of its parts. 

We will continue to directly protect farm and ranchland in ways that prioritize preserving essential habitat and build regional connectivity for wildlife. We will leverage our small grants program to support biodiversity on farms and ranches, restoring and enhancing climate-vulnerable and threatened habitats and ecosystems.

Building Climate Resilience

Incentivize and accelerate climate smart agricultural practices and nature-based solutions that deliver climate resilience.

The science is clear — investing in the increased stewardship and protection of our natural and working lands is a simple and economically viable way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, promote healthy ecosystems, and reduce the impacts from climate extremes, like flooding, erosion, and drought. Permanently protecting land is a critical part of the climate solution.

In addition to protecting land from development, we can also build long-term climate resilience through accelerating climate smart agricultural practices. These practices, which focus on increasing the amount of sequestered carbon, include: building soil health, improving water security, planting hedgerows, restoring riparian habitats, designing and implementing carbon farms plans, composting, and so much more.

Connecting Our Community

Inspire and build a constituency to increase awareness of the public benefit of protecting agricultural land.

We believe in the power of working together. Since agricultural issues are often deeply intertwined with protecting biodiversity, building climate resilience, and addressing economic and societal inequities, it takes a diverse community to move forward. This community includes ranchers and farmers, caring donors, partner organizations, and people like you.

At our heart, MALT is a community-based organization and we depend on our community to fulfill our mission. With this in mind, we will build broad awareness in the community of the wide-ranging public benefits of agriculture. We will also increase dialogue and connection with tribal groups and next generation farmers to identify and act on inclusive, collaborative solutions that meet a range of agricultural and community needs.

Strengthening the Organization

Invest in the people, technology, and processes that support the foundation of our organization.

We recognize that our success depends upon our staff, board, and a healthy, resilient organization. As we move into the future, we will continue to make strategic investments in the people, technology, and processes that support our organization, including our diversity, equity, and inclusion practices. 

As we continue to strengthen the organization, we will focus on staff retention and growth, advancing board governance and accountability, and increased transparency about our policies and processes. 

While these pillars have been fundamental for much of our legacy to date, there’s never been a more important time for our organization to thrive. Now is the time to double down by sharpening our focus. Over the next year, we will continue to share additional information about this effort and the work supporting this strategy. 

Thank you again for being part of MALT and sharing our vision. 

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