The Robert Giacomini Dairy, a premier Marin County milk producer that is home to the Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Co. and is a respected leader in farmland preservation and stewardship, is the 2013 recipient of the prestigious California Leopold Conservation Award.
The Leopold Award, presented Dec. 9 at the 95th annual meeting of the California Farm Bureau Federation in Monterey, comes with a $10,000 award. The Leopold Award is given annually to a private landowner with a deep and abiding love for their land, honoring stewards dedicated to leaving their land better than they found it. The award is named for celebrated writer Aldo Leopold, author of A Sand County Almanac, who called for an ethical relationship between people and the land they own and manage.
Dairy rancher Robert Giacomini and his grown daughters Karen, Diana, Lynn and Jill own and operate the dairy and Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Co. on their 720 acre ranch at Point Reyes Station in coastal Marin County. The Giacomini family epitomizes the values of Aldo Leopold who wrote that the development of a land ethic was “an evolutionary possibility and an ecological necessity.’” That ethic is alive and well on the Giacomini Dairy and many of the other farms and ranches in the North Bay’s farm belt.
The Leopold Conservation Award is sponsored by the Sand County Foundation, based in Madison, Wisconsin, in partnership with the California Farm Bureau Federation and Sustainable Conservation.
Giacomini, a longtime agricultural leader and Farm Bureau member, was at the annual CFBF meeting in Monterey to receive the award. He was accompanied by his daughers Lynn and Jill along with dairy herdsman Brian Waymire and Jim Kehoe, who runs the Giacomini Dairy’s methane digester.
“I’ve always felt it was the responsibility of a rancher and landowner to take care of the land for the next generation,” said Giacomini, who has been a dairy farmer for 55 years. In accepting the award, Giacomini was humble and gracious, thanking his family and 40 employees for helping him achieve his vision for a sustainable family farming operation that will continue for generations.
“During my 55 years in ranching I never dreamed I would be up before the delegates and membership of the California Farm Bureau to be honored with an award like this,” said Giacomini. The Giacomini’s land has been protected forever through the Marin Agricultural Land Trust, ensuring that family members can continue the ranching legacy through this century and beyond.
“It makes me feel good to know that my grandchildren are going to be on our land, which has been protected in perpetuity,” said Giacomini, who has eight grandchildren. Giacomini’s wife Dean passed away in 2012. The couple had been married 54 years.
California Farm Bureau president Paul Wenger said the Giacomini family is a shining example of how farmers and ranchers care for their land and natural resources, preserving a healthy, working landscape for future generations.
“Responsible care for our land and other natural resources has allowed California farmers and ranchers to sustainably produce the food and farm products we all depend upon,” said Wenger. “The Leopold Conservation Award recognizes outstanding examples of the stewardship that family farmers and ranchers perform every day.”
In 2000, after 40 years of milking cows and producing fluid milk on the family ranch, the Giacomini family was at a crossroads. Robert Giacomini was reaching retirement age. Profit margins were thin and couldn’t economically sustain the adult family members who wanted to return to the ranch but did not necessarily want to milk cows.
The family made the bold move in 2000 to invest in a value added product – high quality California blue cheese – that would be produced from their herd of Holstein cows. Once they made the decision, the Giacomini family did everything right, hiring an experienced cheese maker to craft what would become the celebrated Point Reyes Original Blue. It was an immediate hit and became a foodie favorite in Bay Area cheese shops.
All the milk for the Giacomini’s family artisan cheeses comes from their 300 cows that graze in pastures on the family’s scenic dairy. Believing the quality of the milk and cheese starts with the grass, the family is committed to careful land and pasture management. The farm is certified organic and uses rotational grazing, which keeps grasses and soils healthy, as well as no-till practices on all fields, so the natural fertilizer can absorb into the soil.
“Because it says ‘farmstead’ on the label, it means it comes from our land,” Giacomini said, “so we are deeply committed to caring for the land.”
The Giacomini family was one of the first to participants in the National Resource Conservation Service’s Conservation Stewardship Program. The family also operates what’s called “The Fork,” a culinary center focused on education and entertainment for people visiting the farm. The Giacomini Dairy hosts meetings of agricultural organizations, culinary students, fellow artisan cheesemakers and others interested in environmental stewardship. The Giacominis are hel;ign the general public understand food production and the vital role private landowners play in conservation.
One of the biggest challenges at any dairy is managing cow waste. In 2009, the Giacominis installed a methane digester that converts methane gas—a byproduct of manure—into useable energy that powers the dairy and cheese plant. They also compost their solid manure, and sell some to a local compost company that in turn sells it to nurseries and other farmers, continuing the cycle of replenishing and building soils.
“The Robert Giacomini Dairy is a model of a successful family business adopting land management practices that are environmentally sustainable. For over 50 years, this dairy has evolved into the finest family-run and operated dairy business in the western United States,” said Marin County agricultural commissioner Stacy Carlsen.
Giacomini, whose ancestors were dairy farmers and cheesemakers in northern taly, holds to the Old World philosophy that if you take care of your land, it takes care of you.
“Our land has been very good to us and we consider it our duty and honor to return the favor,” Giacomini said.