Marin Agricultural Land Trust (MALT) helped save a Marin organic dairy near the town of Tomales when it permanently protected a 126-acre property. Second-generation dairy farmers Monique and Mike Moretti had leased this critical piece of farmland for 16 years and transitioned its pasture to organic along with the dairy last year. It comprises a picturesque valley directly behind the family’s ranch, providing essential pasture for their herd of milking cows.
The viability of the dairy was threatened earlier this year when the owner of the leased farmland put it up for sale. ”I grew sick to my stomach with each car that drove through our dairy on the easement road to view our pastureland,” says Mike. “I knew each was a potential buyer that could end our livelihoods and change the land forever.“
As they feared, a non-agricultural buyer made a successful offer to purchase the land at a price well above the agricultural value, placing it out of the family’s reach. Fortunately a member of the Moretti’s extended family had worked with MALT to save their own farm. The Morettis, too, decided to turn to MALT for help.
The Morettis’ grazing lease contained a critical first right of refusal clause, giving them 20 days to match the offer. MALT immediately put together a plan that entailed purchasing an agricultural conservation easement to reduce the Moretti’s cost and ensure the land is permanently protected as farmland.
Typically, it takes more than a year for MALT to complete the purchase of an easement. Thanks to MALT supporters, whose contributions made up the entire price of the easement, MALT was able to act quickly. With MALT’s support, the Morettis were able to match the offer with not a day to spare and the family’s organic dairy was saved.
“Losing a family farm today is much more common that saving one, and the story of how this farm was almost lost illustrates how easily it can happen,” says MALT Executive Director Bob Berner. “The development of this key piece of pastureland, which is surrounded almost entirely by MALT-protected farms, would have not only jeopardized the future of this family’s farm but impacted wildlife corridors, grassland bird habitat, as well as the water quality of Stemple Creek. It also would have introduced the serious conflicts that arise when non-agricultural residential development is located in the heart of working farms and ranches.”
Now that the farm is secure, the couple’s children Amanda and Danny have the opportunity to join the growing ranks of young Marin farmers who are returning from college to join their families’ operations. That’s Amanda’s plan after she completes her degree in dairy science at Cornell University. And Danny will be able to continue his daily farm chores alongside his dad knowing his family’s farm is here to stay.
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 conservation agreements, which total more than 44,200 acres on 69 family farms and ranches. To learn more about MALT, visit www.malt.org.