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Fog, Sheep and Cheese at Barinaga Ranch…

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It is MALT time again for me, which means I get to go explore amazing ranches in West Marin and document what goes on, for MALT’s (Marin Agricultural Land Trust) annual report.

This time I went to Barinaga Ranch. The owners, Marcia Barinaga and her husband Corey Goodman, wanted to buy a farm and retire in West Marin. But they quickly decided that they didn’t want to retire in the usual way, instead they decided to keep the land in agriculture by raising sheep for cheese. Neither having grown up on a ranch, they had a lot to learn.

But they have been learning quickly, and only a few years after they purchased the land, they now have their very first cheese available on the market this fall. Some of the places you can find their cheese are: Oliver’s in Santa Rosa, Cowgirl Creamery and Osterina Stellina, in Point Reyes Station.

Get to know your food, farmers and the tools they use…

Farming has changed greatly over the last two generations, as Gene Ponica knows that first hand. He says, growing up on a dairy ranch was not fun for a kid. But the dairy cows are long gone these days. It was too expensive and challenging to upgrade all the old equipment to meet today’s strict dairy standards, so now the only cows on Poncia’s 700 acre West Marin ranch are beef cattle… and, that means, for the first time in his life, Gene has time to go fishing.

For the 2008 Annual Report for MALT (The Marin Agricultural Land Trust,) the theme was: Tools of the Trade. So I went to four different ranches and photographed tools old and new to help illustrate some of the changes that farming has gone through over the years.

These are some samples of where farming has come from…

I was told that in the “old days” ranchers were very resourceful… because they could not afford to buy new fancy equipment, they often had to build a lot of their tools, in order to make their chores a little easier. I saw lots of homemade tractors, and my favorite… the milking track shown in the photo below. These old carts ran on a track around the barn to distribute the hay, that dropped from the barn above, to the cows waiting to be milked in the barn below.

Then I saw some tools that were used in the “old days” and that are still going strong today… like The Straus Family Creamery’s organic milk bottling and washing machines. It was such a beautiful process to watch. And as a quick aside: Albert Straus is absolutely the nicest (extremely successful) business man I have ever met… all of his employees in the office and the factory clearly like and respect him. It is refreshing to know that a good man is behind a good product… and it makes me feel good to buy that beautiful milk bottle in the grocery store, even if it is more than my budget would like, because good quality products are not cheap.

And then I got to experience a modern milking industry in action… and I saw the process of cheese making from start to finish, at the Giacamini Ranch, where they make Pt. Reyes Blue Cheese.

Definitely no milking by hand here, because in order to keep up with their demand, they need to milk over 300 cows in 5 hours. And the secret to their rapid success… this handy little machine below…

I have spent many hours milking cows by hand… and I am really glad I had not seen this machine during that time period, because I didn’t fully understand how easy it could have been…. no spilled milk, or hours of hand cramping milking, in this super sterile barn.

Then all that milk ends up here… where the rest of the magic begins…

And the beautiful final products…. cheese…. and manure. The cheese is carefully packaged and shipped off to grocery stores across the US… and the manure is carefully collected, processed and diverted from the waterways… in order to protect our environment for the next generation of farmers and consumers.

My conclusion… get to know where your food comes from… how it is made and who is making it… and you will appreciate it all a whole lot more. Support your local organic farmers and cows.

Trying to wow with my cows… and one sheep…

For the last three years, I have been lucky to get assignments for MALT, the Marin Agricultural Land Trust. I do all kinds of things for them, including, documenting events like Taste of Marin, and their hikes on MALT protected ranches. It has been a wonderful partnership, because I have been able to go places that I wouldn’t normally get to go to and meet people who I wouldn’t meet otherwise.

And for the past couple of weeks, I have been trying to collect images for their Annual Report. The theme is ‘tools of the trade.’ I will post some of those photos next. But in addition to tools, Elisabeth also wanted powerful overall landscape photos… photos that show nature, with a slight trace of human impact and some animals. My first round of photos weren’t so impressive… which isn’t surprising because landscapes really are not my specialty.

So, I had one last night to try again… but it is challenging with our bright blue cloudless skies, because without anything interesting in the sky, it puts all the pressure is on the landscape itself… and the window of opportunity for good landscape light lasts about 10 minutes… and then it is gone. So it is a game of wait…wait…wait…wait…wait….then…. go-go-go-go-go…. and then it’s over… until next year’s Annual Report… so I hope, with these photos, I got what she wanted.

Another day of photography….

Just to give you some insight on the emotional reality of photographers… well, of this photographer anyway, I only assume other photographers feel this way too…

I started off Saturday feeling nervous and unsure about my the upcoming shoot, and was wondering how much longer I will be able to keep up my highs and lows of photography.

But at the same time, the confident part of my brain started waking up and saying, “It will be fine, you can do this. It’s just cute kids, easy, go. The point was to photograph the next generation of Marin Agricultural Land Trust wearing promotional t-shirts for their annual report and brochures.

And this is what we did…. Patrick the boy below was super shy when he came in, and was hiding behind his mom. But I invited him to climb on the hay bales with me and soon, the real Patrick came out.

It was lots of fun, and I was in my favorite type of studio… huge barn with skylights. So I am still a photographer for another day.

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