About our family
In 1936, our dad, William (Bill) Straus – a city kid born and raised in Hamburg, Germany – fled Hitler, eventually settled in California and, in 1941, purchased this ranch and became a dairy farmer. Quite remarkable, considering that Dad had never actually milked a cow in his life! Nonetheless, he started with 32 Jersey cows, naming them after friends and relatives.
In 1949, Dad was introduced to Mom (Ellen) – a Dutch Jewish immigrant whose family escaped Amsterdam before the Nazi invasion of 1940 – and traveled all the way from the farm to New York to meet her … no small feat in the late 1940s. They courted for 16 days, during which time he kept pulling out photos of the farm.“You have to stop,” mom protested. “I don’t want to marry you just for the cows!” (She’d always dreamed of living on a farm.) He asked her to marry him. She said, “yes” and, three months later, having met only one more time, they married.
The practice of naming cows came crashing to a sudden halt, when mom’s aunt (a cigar smoking, tough-talking New Yorker) made a big stink about not wanting a cow named after her.
For those of you who love Marin County’s stunning beauty and agricultural bounty, you might be surprised to learn that, just 40-50 years ago, commercial developers were planning to transform all of our incredible beautiful, agriculturally-vital lands into a suburban wasteland of concrete, asphalt and freeways. The Marin County that you see today is the result of decades of hard work by a coalition of ranchers, environmentalists and activists determined to prevent another “Silicon Valley” (an area previously known for its unparalleled natural beauty and agricultural abundance).
Mom and Dad – farmers and environmentalists, a rare combination at the time – were at the forefront of that movement, and determined to help save the land that had helped save them. In 1980, Mom and her friend Phyllis Faber co-founded the Marin Agricultural Land Trust (MALT), the first agricultural land trust in the nation, creating an innovative mechanism to compensate farmers for staying in agriculture, rather than selling out to developers. To date, MALT has permanently protected 75 ranches, more than 47,000 acres, and served as a model for hundreds of other agricultural land trusts that now exist in this country.
There are four Straus siblings: Albert, Vivien, Miriam and Michael.
In the early 1990s Albert, after years of struggling to make the dairy business financially viable, transitioned this land (and another nearby ranch) to organic, and opened Straus Family Creamery, the first organic dairy west of the Mississippi. At the time, neighboring farmers wished us well, but thought we were totally crazy. At the time, we weren’t so sure that they were wrong!
Vivien and Michael played key roles in the success of the Creamery, including running the marketing, sales and PR for many years. Miriam left for the east coast to follow her heart and to start a family, and currently teaches agriculture and science in the classroom. Today, Vivien is an actress and playwright as well as having created CheeseTrail.org promoting local and California cheesemakers, and Michael is a journalist, PR consultant and researcher of psychic phenomena (blogging at MichaelStraus.org)
Straus Home Ranch and Straus Family Creamery are totally separate (though guests have been known to discover an assortment of Straus dairy delights in the fridge)! The three of us (Michael, Miriam and Vivien) own the Straus Home Ranch, while Albert owns a nearby dairy and Straus Family Creamery. All four siblings, each in our own way, are dedicated to supporting organic and sustainable family farm movement, and carrying forward our parent’s commitment to being good stewards of the land.
We encourage all of our guests to watch “Rebels with a Cause“, a fabulous documentary about how activists and concerned citizens have helped protect Marin County’s incredible vital agricultural lands and beautiful open space. We have a review copy in the house, as well as DVDs for sale. We also encourage everyone to support the Marin Agricultural Land Trust (MALT), which has played a crucial role in the organic food and sustainable agriculture movements.
Our farm has been certified organic by Marin Organic Certified Agriculture (MOCA) since 1993.