This past November, the Bay Area lost an inspiring, dedicated voice for the environment. Ellen Straus, matriarch of the first organic dairy farm west of the Mississippi and co-founder of the Marin Agricultural Land Trust (MALT; at www.malt.org), passed away at her home in the West Marin town of Marshall. After fleeing Holland in 1940 to escape Nazi persecution of Dutch Jews, Mrs. Straus came to the United States. She moved to Marin in 1950 after falling in love with the pictures her future husband displayed of his farm on the shores of Tomales Bay. Mrs. Straus played an important role in the county’s burgeoning environmental movement in the 1960s by pioneering the concept of “development easements” for family farms. Through easements, farmers sell the development rights on their land to a land trust, thereby ensuring that the land’s use remains agricultural. The 32,000 acres of easements in Marin County to date, coupled with the surrounding state and federal parklands, help form a greenbelt that provides habitat for native plants and wildlife. Mrs. Straus also helped push for the creation of the Point Reyes National Seashore and served on numerous nonprofit boards including the Marin Conservation League, Environmental Action Committee, and Greenbelt Alliance. Donations in her memory can be sent to MALT, P.O. Box 809, Point Reyes Station, CA 94956.
Bay Nature magazine ◦ January-March 2003