Can West Marin Feed Itself?

Can West Marin Feed Itself?

Hear Kevin Lunny speak on Agricultural Diversity in Marin County at the Climate Action Day event in Point Reyes, Oct. 24, 2009.

Listen to audio pod casts of KWMR’s Post Carbon shows with Bing Gong and Bernie Stephan talking about growing food in West Marin:

Aug. 24, 2009: The Future of Agriculture in West Marin: Farmer and Rancher Perspectives on Climate Change and Peak Oil-Part 1 with Sally Gale, Albert Straus and Dominic Grossi

Aug. 31, 2009: The Future of Agriculture in West Marin: Farmer and Rancher Perspectives on Climate Change and Peak Oil-Part 2 with John Wick, Kevin Lunny and Janet Brown.

Marin Carbon Project

Analysis of  Marin County Agricultural land

Keeping in mind the population of West Marin is about 10,000 and all of Marin County is 248,794 (July, 2008), read below the definitions of the land types and see how much land in Marin is considered prime farmland or even just farmland. Total county area was listed as 378,662 acres.

Marin County Farmland, 2010 (click to enlarge)

updated April 11, 2012

The Future of Agriculture in Rural Marin

by Burr Heneman
Bolinas, California

The basic picture is that most large-acreage agriculture in Marin is pretty vulnerable. Acreage remains the same, but inflation-adjusted income has been declining steadily. I’ll bet that the Transition movement is interested in helping figure out how to foster greater ag production that can be consumed locally (Marin? Bay Area?) rather than see conversion of our ranches to 60-acre ranchettes because the ranchers are having a harder and harder time making a living.

… some graphs about basic Marin ag economics that Michael Mery and I have put together.  Here’s the picture we hope the four graphs help convey:
• Historically, most of Marin’s ag production value has been tied to commodities, especially milk.
• Milk (and beef) prices to producers have not been keeping up with inflation (an understatement).
• The result is declining gross ag revenue (inflation-adjusted).
• The ag that many people are most familiar with (vegetables, wine grapes, aquaculture) has been increasing, but that increase does not begin to offset the decline in inflation-adjusted returns from commodity-priced products.
• So, while ag acreage has remained about the same, the inflation-adjusted ag income to support those properties has declined by about 50% (!!!) over the past 50 years.
• This problem is common to ag in much of the US. There really are only three ways that farm families have of reversing the decline in farm income:
1) increase non-farm income (get a job off the farm, something that most US farm families already do),
2) shift from commodity-priced products (milk and beef) to value-added production (cheese, organic milk, grass-fed beef, wine grapes, olive oil), and 3) develop your property.
• People who like the way West Marin looks shouldn’t take the vistas of undeveloped land for granted. It won’t remain “open space” if the income to support the owners of those ranches keeps declining.
Graph #1 :  inflation-adjusted prices that dairy farmers receive, 1977-2009, are down by over 50%. Milk still accounted for 56% of Marin ag income in 2008 — our ranchers are still heavily reliant on it.
Graph #2 – Given the continuing importance of milk and the declining prices for milk to producers (inflation adjusted), it’s not surprising that total return to ag producers from all categories of ag in Marin has declined from about $115million to about $60million (adjusted for inflation) in the past 30 years.
Graph #3 — This graph shows the decline in gross returns for ag from large ranches, most of it from grass-based ag products like milk, beef, sheep, grazing leases, etc. And it shows how little all other ag categories amount to (vegetables, wine grapes, aquaculture, etc.).
Map — here’s the area at risk — or where the Transition potential is: everything in both shades of green plus the ranches outlined at Pt. Reyes National Seashore and in GGNRA. At least the dark green is under MALT easements.
This essay was written for  Community Conversations #4:
Agriculture in Rural Marin: Its Challenges, its possibilities, its future, April 10, 2010, POINT REYES STATION
10-minute presentations on the state of agriculture in Rural Marin by:
Sharon Doughty, Rancher, wine producer, inn keeper
The presentations followed by two or more small, World Cafe-Style “conversations” on “Agriculture in Rural Marin”.
Sites for information about agriculture in Marin
from David Lewis, County Agent
A resource from our office for people to know about is the Grown In Marin website:  The site has:
Directory of Marin farms:
Description and resource from previous workshops:
Past editions and online subscription to the quarterly newsletter: .
Amazing But True Facts About Marin County Agriculture:
The Status of Marin County Agriculture:
And since we discussed processing and livestock, for those who like to really get into details, a recently completed study on meat processing is available at
Ag Alert is a good source of information on California and National Agricultural Issues:

Food Shed Project Resources, August 2009

Can Totnes Feed Itself?, Rob Hopkins,Transition, July 9, 2009

GIS Interactive Map of Can Totnes Feed Itself?,, 2009

Can New York Feed Itself? Jon Bosak,  TC, June 17, 2009

Foodzoning the Foodshed, Rob Hopkins, Transition, March 9, 2009

Think Globally, Eat Locally (San Francisco Foodshed),  American Farmland Trust, 2008

Crop Reports, Marin County Dept. of Agriculture, 1935-2008

Food and Permaculture, by David Blume,, undated

World of Hope, 7 episodes, by John Jeavons,, 2008-2009

Can Britain Feed Itself?, Rob Hopkins, Transition, 2007

Can Britain Feed Itself? (pdf), Simon Fairlie,The Land, Winter, 2007-2008

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