Marin Agricultural Land Trust (MALT) partners with Hog Island Oyster Company to protect historic Tomales Bay ranch

POINT REYES STATION, California – (COMMERCIAL THREAD)–The Marine agricultural land trust (MALT), a pioneering farmland trust in Marin County, Calif., Today announced it has closed an agricultural conservation easement with Hog Island Oyster Company in Marshall, permanently protecting the 250-acre Leali Ranch for agriculture and cultivation of marine organisms. One of the leading producers of certified sustainable shellfish, Hog Island grows, harvests, hulls and sells oysters at its restaurants and other outlets.

“Hog Island’s Leali Ranch is of considerable agricultural, environmental and historical significance, and we share the owners’ desire to preserve and manage this beautiful land in perpetuity,” said Thane Kreiner, Ph.D., CEO of MALT. “With this agricultural conservation easement, MALT permanently protects Leali Ranch and enables Hog Island Oyster Company to invest more in innovative circular production practices.

“This MALT conservation easement provides us with an essential cash infusion to maintain and modernize our operations, which have been hit hard by the pandemic,” said John Finger, co-founder and CEO of Hog Island Oyster Company. “Beyond simple survival, easement gives us the opportunity to do more – for our customers, our staff, our suppliers, the community at large and the environment itself.

MALT easements preserve local agriculture

MALT uses agricultural conservation easements to protect Marin’s unique landscape and the food it generates. MALT works with pastoralists and farmers who manage farmland to provide public goods, including clean air, clean water, carbon sequestration and biodiversity. The Leali Ranch Easement offers special protection to streams and riparian areas and requires 240 acres of ranch range to remain in agricultural production.

MALT’s agricultural conservation easements have typically been funded through a combination of public grants and private donations. To expedite the closing, MALT fully funded the transaction costs and the $ 1.1 million purchase of the Hog Island Oyster Company easement to help the company weather a devastating decline in business that occurred when the COVID-19 pandemic has closed its restaurant dining rooms.

The easement on Leali Ranch protects 240 acres of rolling meadows, rocky outcrops, steep wooded slopes, freshwater springs, seeps and important wetland habitats along Tomales Bay; enables infrastructure to support mariculture such as oyster reservoirs and solar-powered water cooling systems; and provides for a residence within the 10 acres closest to the Hog Island Bay facility.

For nearly a century, the Leali family grazed beef cattle and dairy cows on the ranch. Under the ownership of Hog Island, the lands support mariculture operations and organic livestock. Hog Island plans to grow organic row crops, plant lemon orchards and produce specialty food grade salt.

Hog Island recently received funding from MALT for Drought Resilience and Water Security to develop additional water resources that support farming operations on Leali Ranch during current and future droughts. Through the easement, Hog Island will also be able to access the MALT Stewardship Assistance Program to restore and protect riparian areas and implement carbon farming practices.

An innovative business model generates broad benefits

Hog Island Oyster Company, founded in 1983 by two marine biologists, has always taken a long-term view in its operations. The company invests in sustainable agricultural and business practices and participates in scientific research in areas such as ocean acidification, restoration of native oyster populations and the effects of climate change on shellfish growth.

“We own and operate the first licensed shellfish and oyster hatchery in California, which creates millions of sustainable seed oysters as well as sustainable, paid jobs and careers,” said Finger. “From hatching to harvest, sustainable oyster farming is a hands-on, labor-intensive process, which ensures that we only get our best oysters to market. ”

As part of its circular production and consumption practices, Hog Island Oyster Company operates throughout the value chain, including:

  • Optimize each stage of oyster hatching, growth and harvesting.

  • Operates its own restaurants offering its oysters and other products, in addition to selling its shellfish in local restaurants, farmers markets and other retail outlets.

  • Offer ancillary products to its main oyster business, such as Bloody Mary mix, homemade pickles, shelling tools and, in the future, sea salt (produced on the Leali ranch) and crops in organic rows such as lettuce.

  • Explore ways to use the oyster shells and algae that are inevitably harvested with oysters and other by-products of the shellfish production process as fodder for livestock, compost and chicken feed supplements, as well as for human consumption.

  • Provide employment to 170 workers directly, while acting as a valuable participant in the local economy which both employs and feeds hundreds of additional people.

With the easement for Hog Island, MALT has now protected 54,459 acres of Marin farmland from agricultural development, in perpetuity.

About MALT

Marin Agricultural Land Trust is a non-profit organization established in 1980 to permanently preserve Marin County’s farmland and make Marin County a thriving farming community in a healthy and diverse natural environment. Some of the Bay Area’s most acclaimed dairy and meat products and organically grown crops are produced on MALT protected farmland, which totals over 54,000 acres on 87 farms and ranches. To learn more about MALT, visit malt.org.

Amalia H. Mercado