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
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
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
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
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
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
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 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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Managing the Forest Under our Feet and Over our Heads
Marin County is widely considered ground zero for the outbreak of Sudden Oak Death in California's forests, which began in the mid-1990s and continues today. Our Forest Health and Environmental Horticulture teams assisted with this confirmation and subsequently have led and contributed to community education and management efforts in Marin and California. This includes confirming composting as a tool to clean infected green waste and the recent science update during the California Oak Mortality Task Force 2020 Executive Committee Meeting. It also includes collaborating on solutions for nurseries and restoration practioneers to prevent the spread of Sudden Oak Death and other Phytophthoras in California’s Native Habitat.
Sudden Oak Death forest walk, Corte Madera, 2014
Today, priorities for Marin’s oak woodland management across the wildland urban interface include fire, fuels, and landscape management. Again, our Forest Health and Environmental Horticulture team is stepping into community and homeowner education roles through online resources, in-person and video educational presentations on fire-smart landscaping, and collaboration with the Marin Wildlife Prevention Authority and FireSafe Marin. The team also contributes to critical research and evaluation on home wildfire resilience and enhancing woodland ecological resiliency to fire, demonstrating the relative importance of vegetation maintenance in preserving landscapes and structures from fire.
Community gathers to discuss post-fire recovery, Monan’s Rill, 2020
The Quality and Quantity of Local Dairy Products
Improving the amount and quality of milk output was an objective of M.B.’s from day one. This was done through improved forage and silage production for summer feed and milk testing for butter fat. As M.B. explained in his 1921 report “dairymen have had an increase in the number of cows milked during the summer because the silage held them up.”
Cow tester, C.C. Goodale on Dan Bondietti Ranch, Tomales 1923
Diversification in Marin dairy farming has been crucial to continued success of individual farms. This has included transitioning to organic production, like through Marin Organic Certified Agriculture. It also includes farmstead and artisan cheese that can be discovered through the California Cheese Trail. We continue to support ranchers in their diversification through consultation and with resources like Grown In Marin.
Milking parlor on Toluma Farms goat and sheep dairy, Tomales 2014
Two Blades of Grass and Farm Sustainability
“Growing two blades of grass where there is one” was a slogan of M.B. Boissevain. This included diversifying the types of forage grown and generally improving pastureland. The aim was to improve each farms bottom line and to protect the farm’s soil from erosion. This effort also complemented an educational campaign to increase the butter fat in milk through improved dairy cow nutrition and genetics.
Peas and vetch planted in the chicken yard, A.L. Cunnighame, Fallon, 1929
Marin’s ranchers are actively implementing Climate Smart and Healthy Soils practices on their ranches. This includes installing solar panels, using compost for bedding, applying compost to increase soil health, and other practices. These practices contribute to the sustainability and stewardship of participating ranches. We are assisting ranchers with applications to state and federal funding opportunities for these practices and collaborating on the Agriculture Chapter in Marin’s Climate Action Plan 2030.
Recently installed solar panels on a Marin Dairy, Tomales, 2019
School and Community Gardens Spread Across Marin
Delivering innovations to Marin residents for growing crops, raising livestock, and managing farms and homes was a priority for M.B. Boissevain. One of the ways this was accomplished was through the tours and trips led by Tomales High School Agriculture Teacher William Reasoner. These trips provided participants firsthand exposure to different crop varieties, rearing practices, and other technologies, as inspiration for improvements both on their farms and in their communities.
Tomales High School Project and Trip, April 1927
Today, Marin residents benefit from 138 community and school gardens. This is an increase from the 86 that were identified in 2010. Within each garden, gardeners exchange ideas for tending their plots. Similarly, community garden managers share resources and management strategies across the county. Our Community Garden Team provides the networking capacity through tours, workshops, and the Marin Community Gardens Map. They have guidance for how to start a community garden and resources for managing them. Learn more about Marin’s community gardens in the 2nd edition of A Garden for Everyone.
Marin Oaks High School Garden Dirt Club, Novato, 2016
Marin’s Endowment, its Open and Connected Landscape
In 1925, “Marvelous Marin” formed to highlight to those outside the county the special features and experiences Marin offered, including its agriculture and outdoor recreation. M.B. Boissevain contributed to this effort by communicating the value of Marin’s landscape for its community. In some ways this was the dawning of conservation in Marin, followed by the formation of the Marin Conservation League in 1934, the Marin Resource Conservation District 1959, and the Marin Agriculture Land Trust in 1980. Each of these organizations have and continue to be leaders for protecting and supporting an open and connected Marin landscape across ranches, parks and reserves.
Marvelous Marin Map, 1925 (Anne T. Kent California Room, Marin County Free Library)
Marin’s watersheds and ecosystems continue to be the foundation for community well-being. Working with partner organizations and individual home and ranch owners, we are providing solutions to maintain and enhance the ecological integrity of Marin’s landscape. The Marin Knotweed Action Team has engaged San Geronimo Valley streamside residents to identify and take steps to eradicate a highly invasive plant and protect critical habitat for salmon. Additionally, our watershed and natural resource collaborations have resulted in documented improvements to stream water quality and capture of carbon in restored stream corridors.
Discussing stream and ranch management, West Marin, 2019 (Hector Amezcua)
The Thread of Partnership and Collaboration
A century of service deserves some attention and reflection. These “Then and Now
” stories have been a small way to adapt to our times and join you in commemorating the 100th
anniversary for UC Cooperative Extension Marin. We hope you have enjoyed the few examples selected from many past and present stories. As was shared in the introduction to these stories, “this centennial is an opportunity to celebrate the pleasure and privilege it is to serve Marin.” The pleasure comes from making a difference for Marin residents through education and innovation. The privilege comes from being part of so many wonderful collaborations. From 1920 to 2020 we have been fortunate to live and work in Marin, adding University of California information and expertise to Marin’s capacity and knowledge. Looking to 2021 and the next 100 years, we look forward to making a difference through continued and future partnerships. On behalf of those that have served before us and those that will serve after us, thank you for the opportunity to be part of Marin and serve its people and lands.
Ranch tour for Conservation Corps North Bay naturalist training, Chilleno Valley, 2010