Hero Image

UC Cooperative Extension Then and Now

Centennial banner_GREY map

Stories

In Cooperation for 100 years
In September 1920, Marrett Burridge (M.B.) Boissevain came to Marin as its first Cooperative Extension Service Farm Advisor. This started the partnership between the University of California, California’s land-grant university, and the County of Marin. As a community member and local resource, M.B. Boissevain served in this role through 1950. As he explained in his first annual report, his “line of work” was to establish programs that would “affect the greatest number… and…greatest good.” Famous for visiting Marin’s farms in his Dutch Petrie riding boots, he set up many trials and demonstrations with Marin farmers.

Golden glow corn on S.L. Mazza Ranch, Boyd Stewart and M.B. Boissevain, Olema, 1922
Golden glow corn on S.L. Mazza Ranch, Boyd Stewart and M.B. Boissevain, Olema, 1922


Today, 100 years later, the UC Cooperative Extension Marin partnership continues. Our staff and academics are working closely with local partnerships in Marin to accomplish the same community benefit Boissevain expressed a century ago. This centennial is an opportunity to celebrate the pleasure and privilege it is to serve Marin. Please join me and our team in reading these stories about our past and present programs and outcomes. These “Then and Now” stories will come to you over the next days and weeks of November. We welcome hearing your thoughts and reactions, and thank you for the continued opportunity to partner and serve.

UC Cooperative Extension Marin Team, Novato, 2019
UC Cooperative Extension Marin Team, Novato, 2019

Serving Marin in the field and on the ground
M.B. was known for visiting Marin farms in his Model T Ford to develop and share innovations with farmers countywide. He also used a Speed Graphic camera to document farmers, the animals they raised and the crops they produced. In this capacity, M.B. set the stage for UC service to Marin that has continued through his five successor Farm Advisors, delivering the UC Land Grant mission locally.

M.B. Boissevain, Marin first Farm Advisor, sitting on the running board of his Model T Ford, 1928
M.B. Boissevain, Marin first Farm Advisor, sitting on the running board of his Model T Ford, 1928


UCCE Marin Advisors, staff, and volunteers, with Marin County support, are in the field delivering programs to Marin youth, on farms, and for home gardeners. Through our diverse programs, we consult with individuals and organizations, publish newsletters, produce information for mass media, and conduct seminars and workshops. We are Marin’s UC, living and working in Marin’s communities.

David Lewis, current Director and Farm Advisor, sitting on the bumper of a Toyota Prius, 2012
David Lewis, current Director and Farm Advisor, sitting on the bumper of a Toyota Prius, 2012

Poultry Production
Marin and the North Bay area were leaders in poultry production during the 1920s. The annual Egg and Butter Festival in Petaluma is a continuation from that period and the area prominence. With advances in transportation and economies of scale advantages, poultry production in other parts of California and the nation outcompeted Marin.

Man with wheelbarrow and white leghorns, Otto Gearhart Poultry Ranch, Novato, 1924
Man with wheelbarrow and white leghorns, Otto Gearhart Poultry Ranch, Novato, 1924

Poultry production has grown since 2000 in Marin to nearly 15% of the total annual crop value today. We are providing training and land use policy support for Marin’s producers who are raising pastured based layers and broilers. These farmers are selling direct to their customers on-farm and in farmers markets. Learn more about on-farm poultry production online.

On-farm pasture poultry shortcourse, Hicks Valley, 2017
On-farm pasture poultry shortcourse, Hicks Valley, 2017

Cultivating youth life and leadership skills
Creating the opportunity for youth to grow their skills and confidence has been central to 4-H youth development in Marin since its inception in the 1920s. Youth would come together in clubs, meeting at local community farm centers, to learn sewing, animal husbandry, and practice public speaking and leadership skills.

The Novato 4-H sewing club, Novato Farm Center, 1930
The Novato 4-H sewing club, Novato Farm Center, 1930

The 4-H youth development program provides opportunities for diverse Marin youth through 4-H clubs, summer camp, and afterschool programs. These include hands-on science, technology, engineering, math, healthy living, and civic engagement projects. They also offer community engagement, public speaking, and leadership skill building (learn more).

Rockets to the Rescue science partnership with Autodesk, San Rafael, 2014
Rockets to the Rescue science partnership with Autodesk, San Rafael, 2014

Support for the home gardener
The UC Marin Master Gardeners were formed in 1986 to train volunteers in horticulture science so they could be a resource for homeowners and their landscapes. The early years focused on member training, establishing the helpdesk, installing demonstration gardens and developing other educational materials to support home gardeners.

Marin Master Gardener Lad Stevenpiper presenting information about bees in the ?garden, 2007
Marin Master Gardener Lad Stevenpiper presenting information about bees in the ?garden, 2007

The ranks of the UC Marin Master Gardeners now exceed 350 volunteers. They publish weekly articles in the Marin Independent Journal and their online newsletter the Leaflet. They are delivering important information for homeowners on food-smart, climate-wise, and fire-smart gardening and landscaping. You will find them at the local farmers market, community and school gardens, and making presentation at libraries and other locations.

Marin Master Gardener Fay Mark staffing an education booth at the San Rafael ?Farmers Market, 2019
Marin Master Gardener Fay Mark staffing an education booth at the San Rafael ?Farmers Market, 2019

Strengthening the Community and Local Food System
In many ways, Marin looked different in 1920 when M.B. Boissevain began as the first Farm Advisor. The population was approximately one fifth the current size, with a much smaller urban footprint. Bridges connecting the county to other regions in the Bay were yet to be built. Local Marin business and community leaders including M.B. joined in the Marvelous Marin Campaign, an effort to attract residents and business to the County. This is one example of early UCCE Marin community development efforts.

Forage crop demonstration, San Rafael, 1926
Forage crop demonstration, San Rafael, 1926


Today, building on our legacy of community development, Advisors and staff have provided leadership and analysis for the local food system, including the Agriculture and Food Chapter in the Countywide Plan. Advisors are currently focusing on the viability of local food systems and equitable access to healthy and local food for all Marin County residents. Convening the Marin Food Policy Council is just one example of how our focus on community development continues to this day.

Community Garden Tour, Fairfax, 2019
Community Garden Tour, Fairfax, 2019

Livestock Care and Handling
In the 1940s the Tomales Farm Center and the Tomales High Agricultural Club provided all farm family members the opportunity to learn about sheep and livestock handling. Principal Charles Hampton, Rancher Roy Parks, and others organized and offered classes and demonstrations

Tomales Joint Union High School Agriculture Tour, Spring 1924
Tomales Joint Union High School Agriculture Tour, Spring 1924


Recently completed research on Marin and Sonoma dairies is providing solutions for bovine respiratory disease. Study findings are now being extended to dairies through practical scoring systems and a mobile app based prevalence tool. These tools benefit the animals through prevention and early detection, protecting calves from disease

Dairy science team evaluating calf respitory health and use of practices to reduce disease spread
Dairy science team evaluating calf respitory health and use of practices to reduce disease spread

Helping Conserve and Use Water Wisely
The majority of Marin was rural and pastoral when M.B. started. It wasn’t until after World War II that significant home building and development lead to the growth of its 11 municipalities and the overall population. With this growth came changes in the landscape and increase demand for water.

Marin County Fair, Novato, 1926
Marin County Fair, Novato, 1926

Our Garden Walks program is now in its 12th year, facilitating water conservation through proper irrigation and gardening practices as well as climate appropriate plant selection. Pairs of Marin Master Gardeners visit and tour individual home gardens, consulting with the homeowner and providing them recommendations that reduce annual water use.

Pinheiro at Ranch Road, Novato 2012
Pinheiro at Ranch Road, Novato 2012

Generations of Las Posadas 4-H Summer Camp
Anita Blake gifted her family’s Angwin, California property to the state in 1929 for study and research in forestry, botany, and kindred subjects, making possible the formation of the Los Posadas State Demonstration Forest. That same year, Marin 4-H initiated summer camp for youth and adults. Camp provided outdoor education with swimming, hiking, and campfire storytelling

Early years of Marin 4-H summer camp at Los Posadas, circa 1930s
Early years of Marin 4-H summer camp at Los Posadas, circa 1930s


With only a couple of exceptions (World War II and the COVID-19 Pandemic) Marin youth have annually participate in weeklong 4-H summer camp. Activities today include forest ecology, orienteering, nature art, music activities, leadership development, and outdoor cooking. Generations of Marin family members have started as campers, served as peer counselors, and returned as adult leaders.

Youth campers participating in a week’s worth of Los Posadas 4-H Summer Camp in 2019
Youth campers participating in a week’s worth of Los Posadas 4-H Summer Camp in 2019

Spuds from the Past to the Present
“Deep in the sandy, loamy soil of western Marin, potatoes have been grown since the early 1800s by Irish and Swiss-Italian settlers,” explained Diane Peterson in her 2008 Press Democrat article, Versatile Spuds. In his 1920 annual report, M.B. Boissevain wrote “the potato growers in the northern part of the county have asked for assistance in growing better crops of potatoes.” This identified need led to seed selection and production efforts in subsequent years. Farmers also grew wheat and other grains through dry and rainfed production practices.

Will Bragga, a member of the potato club in Tomales, July 1922
Will Bragga, a member of the potato club in Tomales, July 1922

Potato production continues today through the commitment of David Little and his Little Organic Farm, among others. We are working with farmers to resurrect the British Queen – a variety once grown widely in Marin and known affectionately as the “Tomales Queenie”. Melissa Poncia Williams and Jessica Poncia Valentine are developing Poncia Spirits – a line of potato vodka built around the British Queen and the recently restored Bodega Red potato. Their great grandfather, Angelo, provided the seed potatoes for farmers to grow the British Queen for dinner tables. Today, his descendants are bringing this variety back, adding their own modern twist.

Melissa Williams and Jessica Valentine planting for a trial run of their vodka in 2019
Melissa Williams and Jessica Valentine planting for a trial run of their vodka in 2019