Straus Family Legacy
Bill Straus started out with 23 Jersey cows, which he named after family members
Ellen Straus was an avid environmentalist
Ellen and Bill Straus
Albert Straus and his three siblings were influenced early on by their parents Bill and Ellen Straus who were very early environmentalists. They saw farmland as a part of a much bigger, natural world that needed to be respected and preserved on its own terms and they had a day-to-day commitment as stewards of the land.
Bill Straus was born on the onset of the First World War in 1914 in Hamburg, Germany. In 1934, inspired by his father’s profession, he set out with a group of young Jews involved in the Zionist agricultural youth movement and took a series of hands-on agricultural courses in the Czech Republic. He wanted to practice farming, which had never before been possible for Jews in Europe.
Fleeing the increasing threat of the Nazis, Bill Straus and his mother went first to Palestine in 1936. Visiting land owned by family members around San Luis Obispo, he fell in love with the California landscape, and chose to settle there, instead, in 1937.
After studying agriculture at the University of California in Berkeley and Davis, he purchased a small dairy on Tomales Bay in 1941. The dairy was on the outskirts of the hamlet of Marshall, situated on the eastern shore of Tomales Bay in western Marin County. He started farming with 23 Jersey cows.
Straus was an innovative dairyman, and was often the first in the region to adopt new and environmentally-sound agricultural practices. He co-founded the Tomales Bay Association, which served as a coalition of the area's environmentalists and farmers, just one of many steps for land conservation.
Bill and Ellen Straus' commitment to agriculture and the environment helped launch a conservation movement that has permanently saved tens of thousands of acres of endangered agricultural land from subdivision.
Inspired by Rachel Carson's book, Silent Spring, Ellen Straus became a committed proponent of environmental stewardship. She served on many nonprofit organizations’ boards, including Marin Conservation League, Marin Community Foundation, Environmental Action Committee, Greenbelt Alliance, Eastshore Planning Group, West Marin Growers, Tomales Bay Advisory Committee, and Environmental Forum. She also co-founded Marin Organic and the Focus on Family Farms Day.
In 1994, the Straus dairy became the first organic dairy west of the Mississippi. She helped design many of the cow images used on glass bottles and in Straus Family Creamery logos.
Ellen Straus will be remembered for co-founding, with friend Phyllis Faber, the Marin Agricultural Land Trust (MALT) in 1980. To date, MALT has acquired development easements on 78 ranches and dairies covering more than 48,000 acres. Due to their vision and success, MALT has become a model for land trusts across the country.
Learn more about Marin Agricultural Land Trust >>
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