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County support for sustainable agriculture coordinator makes a difference

The Issue

In 2001, in response to a growing sense of urgency about the decline of agriculture in Marin County, a group of county officials, under the leadership of County Supervisor Steve Kinsey, met to devise a plan to provide support for the Marin County ag industry. With input from a diverse group of farmers, educators, non-profit organizations and environmental groups, a multi-faceted plan was proposed and implemented in stages. A very important component of this plan was the creation and funding of the organic and sustainable agriculture coordinator position within the Marin County UC Cooperative Extension office.

What Has ANR Done?

The goal in creating the position was to strengthen the viability and long-term success of agriculture in Marin County by assisting farmers and ranchers with diversification. The UCCE office in Marin County was instrumental in identifying the need for the position, writing the position description, recruiting and interviewing applicants for the position, hiring, and obtaining funding for the initial four years. Steve Quirt, a long-time West Marin resident and part-time farmer, was hired. One of his first projects was the conversion of Russ Sartori’s Tomales-area ranch from grazing to strawberries, a more profitable crop. The sustainable agriculture coordinator position was initially funded with a grant from the Clarence E. Heller Foundation. The grant, the largest private grant ever awarded to the UC sustainable agriculture program, funded the position from 2001 to 2004. In July 2005 the county of Marin took over funding.

The Payoff

Marin agriculture is diversifying as local producers benefit

Few people realize that over half the land in Marin County is actively farmed or ranched. Through the "Grown in Marin" newsletter and Web site, hosting workshops to help farmers diversify, and by representing local producers and organic farmers on several advisory boards, Steve Quirt is helping build a local and sustainable food system with notable success. From 2001 to 2007, the number of organic growers in Marin County has increased from 23 to 46. Certified organic acreage increased from 810 acres to 17,420 acres over the same period. Eighty-eight percent of those attending Grown in Marin workshops say they will use what they have learned in their farming practices. At the Grown in Marin Web site http://growninmarin.org, producers can access information on past workshops, download hand-outs on permitting new value-added activities, and consumers can find out where to purchase local food. Recent reports on a variety of field research projects on alternative livestock production are also available.

Clientele Testimonial

“UCCE staff has contributed an exceptional level of knowledge and guidance -- helping us get better organized, and more effective at accomplishing our goals." – David Evans, H Ranch

"UCCE staff have directly increased the amount of organic acreage in Marin County and have created optimism in our young people." - Kevin Lunny, beef producer


Ellie Rilla, (415) 499-4204, erilla@ucdavis.edu
Steve Quirt, (415) 499-4204, wsquirt@ucdavis.edu