The Ellen and Bill Straus Family
A California woman hailed for her leadership in pioneering the development of farmland protection programs received national recognition as the 1998 Steward of the Land, presented by American Farmland Trust.
AFT, the nation's leading farmland conservation group, selected Ellen Straus of Marin County, Calif., for the award in recognition of her outstanding efforts in land stewardship, farmland conservation policy and the use of environmentally and economically sustainable farming practices. Ellen and Bill Straus and their family accepted the second annual Steward of the Land Award at a special luncheon of the AFT Board of Directors in Washington, D.C. The land protection programs Straus successfully implemented in Marin County are considered models for similar efforts nationwide. Recently, governors in Ohio, New Jersey and Maryland have identified the protection of farmland in the face of sprawling development as central to their legislative agendas and critical for improving the quality of life for Americans.
Born in Amsterdam, Holland, Straus immigrated with her family to New York City in 1940. She met and married Bill Straus in 1950 and moved to his dairy farm on the Tomales Bay in Marin County. The Straus Family Creamery, the first organic dairy and creamery west of the Mississippi, now sells over one million bottles of organic milk per year, in addition to cheese, butter and yogurt.
Throughout her 48 years in Marin County, Straus has worked tirelessly to support the protection of agriculture in California. In 1980, she co-founded the Marin Agricultural Land Trust, MALT, the first land trust in the country to focus exclusively on the protection of farm and ranch lands. In the process she spearheaded an unprecedented alliance among landowners, environmental activists and political leaders. Straus' leadership has led to the permanent protection of more than 25,000 acres of farmland in Marin County—a total of 38 farms, including her family's own 660-acre Blake's Landing Farms.
Ms. Straus died on November 30, 2002. In a memorial statement, Ralph Grossi expressed the sorrow thousands of people felt at her passing.
"The recognition that this award bestows upon Ellen and Bill Straus is modest in relation to the contribution they have made to the future of Marin agriculture," said AFT President Ralph Grossi. "Their vision, leadership and courage have been absolutely critical to the success of MALT, the countywide plan and, most importantly, the partnership of Marin's agriculture, environmental and business communities."
MALT Executive Director Robert Berner, who along with Phyllis Faber nominated the Ellen Straus family for the Steward of the Land Award, said "Ellen is one of those few people who give themselves completely and selflessly to the protection and enhancement of their communities."
The following illustrate the extraordinary accomplishments of the Straus family in farmland protection, environmentally sound farming practices, and public education regarding the importance of agriculture:
- In 1968 Straus and her family successfully opposed a new development plan to build a freeway to West Marin, which would have created a city of 100,000+ in a traditional rural landscape.
- The Strauses were the first Marin farmers to testify on behalf of A-60 zoning, which limits land use to one home per every 60 acres. A-60 zoning continues to provide a safeguard for Marin County agricultural land to this day, 25 years after its adoption.
- In 1972 Straus worked on behalf of Proposition 20, a statewide coastal zone management and land conservation initiative. With its passage, Straus helped develop the Local Coastal Plan, later integrated into Marin County's general plan, ensuring agriculture protection provisions.