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John Kostecki is the brains behind the boat. As the tactician for Larry Ellison’s 2013 America’s Cup team, the 48-year-old world champion sailor is the guy who will be plotting the course when the team’s 72-foot catamaran races this summer on San Francisco Bay.
I photographed Kostecki at Oracle Team USA’s headquarters off lower Third Street in San Francisco. When Kostecki told me to meet him at the team “shed,” I envisioned some shanty-like building sitting dockside along the water. Wrong. The “shed” is massive warehouse on Pier 80 whose size dwarfs the 44-foot hulls of the catamarans team used last summer for preliminary races.
As I usually do, I had little time to make a picture, and went with one light and a wide lens. I wanted to highlight Kostecki, of course, but also show the spaciousness of the shed.
Here’s the interview by Stephanie Martin of Kostecki in Marin Magazine.
Many of us are pigs. Sadly. We toss our plastic bottles, takeout containers and other trash out of our cars, inconsiderate of the environmental damage it does, the aesthetic blight it causes and the cost to to clean it up.
I spent some time walking a section of U.S. Highway 101 in Marin County with a crew from the Conservation Corps North Bay (CCNB) for a story in Marin Magazine about how, even in the wealthiest of the Bay Area’s counties, motorists use public roadways as their private dumping grounds.
The CCNB crews consist of young men and women who were born into challenging lives and, with the help of the Corps and the sweat of their brows, are turning them around.
Next time you’re about to dump your double-decaf-mocha-grande cup out of the car window, think about who has to clean up your mess.
She was delightful. As she talked with writer Mimi Towle, Brenda mugged for the camera, sketched some drawings on a large pad she’d brought with her and generally kept us all in laughter — mimicking, for example, her heroine’s (Merida) stance with a bow and arrow.
Merida, by the way, is based on Chapman’s 13-year-old daughter, Emma, a student at Mill Valley Middle School. She told the Marin Independent Journal in an article published today that when her daughter was younger …
“… She was so strong-willed, challenging me every step of the way. Honestly, I never did that to my mom. It was old school in my house growing up. But my daughter took over my life. I’d be going to work thinking about the morning I had with her. It evolved into channeling that energy into creating something positive around it.”
Congratulations to Brenda.
The key to looking good in a photograph – aside from being biologically blessed with an attractive array of DNA — is being relaxed. That’s why I like pointing my camera at broadcasters and actors. They’re used to being in front the lens. They know how to hold themselves, how to smile and how to wait (which is important during a shoot because there always seems to be a lot waiting — for something technical, for the makeup, for everyone to say what they need to say.)
Nothing much phases them. Ordinary people — meaning you and I — get nervous when they wait or, say, there’s a computer glitch (which happens regularly these days with tethered shooting). Oh, oh, they think, the photographer’s having a problem and I’m going to look terrible.
That doesn’t happen with pros like Claudia Cowan, Fox News’ San Francisco reporter. I photographed her for a Q&A with Marin Magazine (here’s the story). She brought a couple of dresses, several hats and the other important thing for this kind of glammy photo with a lot of lights — a makeup artist, a good one like Christina Flach.
Christina and I worked together once before — only that time it was more personal. I photographed her husband, ex-tennis pro Ken Flach, who hung up his racket to open a barbecue joint, Best Lil’ Porkhouse in San Rafael.
My work is small time compared to much of what Christina does — TV ads, print campaigns, etc. — so she was as cool as Claudia, which makes my job pretty easy. All I need to do is get the lights right, make sure the cords are connected and push a shutter button a hundred times or so.
Working with pros makes me look even more professional.
(See Claudia and Christina together in the gallery photos below).
I love Christmas lights. What’s outside a house during the holidays says a lot about who’s inside. Are they garish? Tasteful? Excessive? Subdued? Artistic? Do their lights have a message? Something religious, something commercial or maybe just: “Peace.”
Last December I photographed dozens of homes, houseboats, trees and yards in Marin County festooned with lights, mechanical Santas and inflated snowmen. Some, such as the single peace sign on a driveway gate, made me wistful. Others, such at the Mill Valley home above, made me marvel at the creativity of its decorators. And a few, such as a Mill Valley waterfront home ablaze with thousands of lights (see the slideshow) made me wonder about sanity of the people who lived there. (They turned out to be a wonderful older couple — here’s their story.)
Marin Magazine collected a dozen or so of the shots and ran them in the December issue. Here’s the layout.
Merry Christmas, all.
Immigration is not an abstraction. Beyond the policy debate and political posturing are real people who make their way to the United States in search of opportunity, their bodies ready to work, their minds intent on success and their hearts filled with dreams of better lives for their children.
Four years ago, I spoke with some of those children, boys and girls — sons and daughters of immigrants from Mexico and Central America — enrolled in a Canal Alliance education program about their future. Their stories and their pictures ran in Marin Magazine under the headline “Sueños de Niños,” dreams of children. Recently, I talked with six of them again, all young women now, some in high school, some in college, one already a mother. Their dreams have changed and so have they.
Here are their stories from 2012.
Here are their stories from 2008.
The photos below are from this year. Inset into each is the photo from 2008.
On April 14 the Low Speed Chase, a 38-foot yacht named after the infamous televised police pursuit of O.J. Simpson, set off from San Francisco Bay for the Farallones Islands, a jagged outcropping of rock 27 miles out in the Pacific, as part of the annual Full Crew Farallones Race, an and out-and-back competition known to test the skills of even the most experienced sailors.
Eight souls were aboard the Low Speed Chase. Three returned to shore alive. The death of the other five crew members — one of the worse U.S. yachting tragedies — and the confluence of massive seas and miniscule course miscalculations that led to the foundering of the Low Speed Chase is well documented. (See a video of ocean conditions at the time). What was originally missing were the personal stories of those who survived, plucked from the sea and the shoals of the Farallones to sail another day.
That gap was filled in part by Bryan Chong, one of the three survivors. The 38-year-old Tiburon father and tech company vice president first told his story to Latitude 38, the voice of the Bay Area yachting community, and later, more extensively, to writer Jennifer Woodlief, an investigative sports reporter, author and former Sports Illustrated scribe.
Woodlief, who also lives in Tiburon, used Chong’s account at the heart of her 6,000-word accounting of the tragedy, which Marin Magazine published in two parts in its October and November 2012 issues. (Part 1, Part 2).
I acted as photo editor on the story, getting shots made by San Francisco Chronicle photographer Brant Ward from Polaris, by the U.S. Coast Guard and by Sophie Webb, a Farallones researcher who was on the island and witnessed the Coast Guard Rescue of the survivors.
I also photographed Chong on a gray, damp August morning at the San Francisco Yacht Club in Belvedere, making the photo you see here. Woodlief, who was very pregnant at the time with her fourth child, wrangled a light-stand for me as we all stood on the wobbly dock.
In the 30 minutes we were together, Chong was relaxed and at ease. We didn’t talk about crash. I didn’t ask him what thoughts were in his head when he was in awash in the ocean. Woodlief did, though, and here is part of her account:
“Bryan experience the the helpless sensation of losing his breath while accidentally swallowing mouthfuls of water. He thought about giving up, he thought about his wife and baby son. … Time after time Bryan pulled himself up to safety just as waves pitched over him and hurled him backward, locking him underwater. ‘It was so steep and the waves kept hitting me,’ he says. ‘It was a constant struggle to get on the rocks.’
Read the whole story.
I just voted and am feeling more American than usual. To spread the democratic spirit — and to inspire your apathetic keister up off the couch if hasn’t voted yet — I offer this collection of stars and stripes, which I shot for Marin Magazine for its July issue.
You may be surprised, as I was, by how widely the flag is displayed here in one of the nation’s most notoriously liberal counties, although truthfully its does fly more frequently in the cul-de-sacs of surburban Novato and than in redwood canyons of hipster Mill Valley.
Flags are symbols, interpreted differently by each of us. For some the American flag signifies liberty, for others oppression. Four years ago, Barack Obama used its colors to communicate hope. This election, Mitt Romney wrapped his opposition in it.
In its earliest iterations the American flag represented individual freedom and collective self-determination. Freedom is now a politically charged word, hijacked by conservatives who wield it as a cudgel against those who question their values and sneered at by liberals who dismiss it as the refuge of small minds.
On this day, when we vote, something so many of the world’s people can’t do in a meaningful way, let’s embrace the flag as a symbol of opportunity — to make a choice, to live as we please, to speak our minds — something I hope we can all agree upon.
Now that we’re one day shy of the first day of Fall, I’m getting around to sharing some of the photos I made this Summer — and this is one of my favorites: Vivienne Harr, an 8-year-old Fairfax girl who set up a lemonade stand in a local park and with the help of her social media savvy dad, Eric Harr, has raised more than $30,000 (and counting) to combat child slavery.
Vivienne has drawn plenty of media attention. She’s as cute as they come, her organic mint-infused lemonade is tart and tasty, and her story is a compelling one: A photograph of two Nepalese children carrying heavy slabs of rock, taken by Marin photographer Lisa Kristine in her book Slavery, inspired young Vivienne to do something. She launched a web site (makeastandlemonade.com), opened her stand in Doc Edgar Park in Fairfax and set a goal of taking in $150,000 to be donated to Not For Sale, a anti-slavery organization. (How terrible is it that as this point of human history there is even a need for an “anti-slavery” group?)
One of the shots I made ran with this short feature in Marin Magazine.
Hey, Tim, I’m often asked, what’s the secret to killer lighting? (Really, it happens all the time).
They’re thinking I’m going to say expensive Swedish strobes (got ‘em) or compact, go-anywhere Nikon speedlights (got those, too) or even a hand-painted, Avedonish backdrop like Annie uses (don’t have that).
Wrong. Wrong. And wronger.
What I tell them is this: The secret to killer lighting is a stand-in — someone to be in front of the camera while you fiddle with the power or feather the softbox or pile sandbags on the stands because you’re doing an outdoor shoot in gale-force winds.
Sometimes the stand-in can be an assistant, someone you’re actually paying, such as photographer John Truong, left, posing with the Lark Theater behind him in preparation for a shot of the movie-house’s owner (here’s the final shot).
Other times the stand-in might be a writer you’re on assignment with, such as Nate Seltenrich of Oakland, above, who occupied the velvet couch for me inside Terrapin Crossroads in San Rafael while we waited for Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh and his wife, Jill. (Writers are generally less thrilled about standing in than assistants.)
Oftentimes, the stand-in might be a somewhat reluctant PR person (whom I won’t show for fear of losing future favor) or and even more reluctant spouse (ditto).
Who the stand-in is really doesn’t matter as long as they have the patience to hang in there until you get the lighting just right — that is, killer — so when the actual subject shows up (often someone with no patience whatsoever) you can make his or her picture straight off just like the professional you are.
Bernice Baeza was sticky, meaning you only had to meet her for a few minutes, like I did, and she’d stick in your mind for long time.
At least that’s how she was for me. I photographed Bernice in April 2011 outside the Lark Theater in Larkspur for Marin Magazine. The magazine was writing about her successful resurrection of the moribund movie-house into a thriving community center that not only showed first-run and classic movies, but filled its seats with Oscar parties, simulcasts of opera and London theater and a long list of other events. When we met, she had just undertaken a similar project with a shuttered movie theater in Novato.
Bernice died on July 21, of lung cancer, the paper said. Nothing could have surprised me more. Was she sick when I made this photograph? She certainly didn’t seem so — although a disease as relentlessly deadly as lung cancer surely had to have been at work in the background then.
My first impression of her on the April evening was how un-Marin she was. The way she stood, solid and occupying her ground. The way she spoke, gently but directly. The way she dressed, dark even on this warm Spring night. All said New York, not Marin.
We chatted as I fussed with the lights and waited for the sky to darken so I could get the colorful neon of the Lark just right in the background, and I learned she was indeed a New Yorker. I told her a story about incident in my misspent youth when I rolled a car on the thruway near her birthplace of Nyack. She smiled knowingly and I thought we had a bond.
But maybe not. Maybe that’s just how she made everyone feel, welcome and worthy. Whatever it was, she stuck. I wish I had known her better. (Her family is maintaining her Facebook page.)
The San Rafael Pacifics, an independent minor league baseball team, played its first game last night. I was on hand at Albert Park in downtown San Rafael.
I needed a picture for Marin Magazine, but since it was for the August issue so I wanted something from the scene and not from the action — and there was plenty of both — a couple of home runs from the home team, a duck mascot (Sir Francis the Drake), seats on the field, kids and families galore and a kitschy character singing the national anthem, Bud E. Luv (above).
The idea to renovate the old ball park (which seats 800) and use it for a summer baseball league was controversial. Neighbors worried about traffic, noise and rowdy fans. My studio is a block from the stadium, so I understood their concerns.
Based on what I saw last night, though, those worries were baseless. Parking was easy, the crowd was chill and despite a few opening day glitches (announcer Will Durst bowing out at the last minute, for example) all was under control.
I recommend a visit. The baseball is fun, the stadium is beyond intimate and the dogs are as good as those at AT&T. Now I want to go back and shoot some baseball.
I photographed Greg in his studio, a basement space in his San Anselmo home. The studio is small, not more than than 10 x 20, and Greg is a big guy, what some would call a strapping lad. I squeezed a small strobe and umbrella against one wall, and let the light ricochet around the studio’s white walls and ceiling, producing a nice, soft look.
Greg’s artwork, which walks the line between whimsical and ethereal — a fun place to be — provided the backdrop. Later, I noticed he wore the same deep red Pelton’s Triumph T-shirt that he has in his bio photo for his website.
Greg was the main attraction at the magazine’s Open Studios’ party celebrating the finalists for the cover. Here are some snapshots of him and some of the others. He has a show up at Gallery Bergelli in Larkspur (the opening is tonight.)
I enjoy photographing artists, especially painters because their studios and their painting supplies fascinate me (although Greg’s was a bit too clean for my taste). Here’s my post from a year ago about photographing the 2011 cover contest winner and a collection of other artist portraits.
Put 10 or 12 people in a dark coffee shop, add in a freelance writer, a magazine editor, a roomful of customers and a couple of homeless people in the back, and you’ve got a scene.
I show up with a big light, a step ladder and a lot of attitude, hoping I can herd all these cats in front of the camera long enough to make something to illustrate a story about Marin’s twitterati. Yep, this is a tweet-up and these are the tweeps of Marin.
I’d rather photograph 10 kids than 10 adults. The kids will pay attention to me, out of fear or curiosity or the simple habit of listening to adults, but the grown-ups won’t stay focused for more than 10 seconds at time. They chit-chat, they get bored, they fuss. And when you throw in the cell-phone-in-your-hand factor, they check email, texts and tweets.
That all means that this kind of shot is lot of fun. As I shot away using almost ridiculous exposures — 1 or 2 seconds to burn in the ambient light while hitting them with the strobe — there was lots of joking, which I pretended wasn’t directed at me. Hey, they were laughing with me, right?
The group shot was done in five minutes, but the editor also wanted some casual, non-posed shots, so I gathered several of the tweeps together in a “non-pose,” moved the light in above them, put the 17mm on the camera and encouraged them to act it up as I shot. They did. And I did. The result is the vertical shot you see here, which ran full page in Marin Magazine as a section opener.
Thanks to Mimi Towle (@mimitowle) for organizing it and the tweeps: Sally Kuhlman (@Sally_K), Sarah Houghton (@TheLib), Suzanna Stinnett (@Brainmaker), Maria Benet (@Alembic), Toni Carreiro (@toniCarr) and Marilyn LoRusso (@fun_master).
And I’m @timporterphoto.
I wrote and photographed a piece for the current issue of Marin Magazine about the projected effects of climate change, most specifically sea-level rise, on Marin County.
Marin, like much of the San Francisco Bay Area and other parts of California, faces a wetter future. If current temperature and sea level trends continue through the century, routine tides could be as much as 55 inches higher than they are today and even higher during storm surges.
Imagine the affect of four-and-a-half feet more water on coastal communities such as Mill Valley, where today’s highest tides already flood city streets, marshes and recreation areas. The bike rider above is crossing Bothin Marsh between Mill Valley and Sausalito, which is already inundated several times a month by winter tides.
If what scientists predict comes to pass — and some form of it will despite all of today’s “green” mitigation efforts — rising seas are going to change the way we live and extract severe financial and social costs.
Here is the opening section. The rest is below the jump (or here online).
Rising Seas: Marin prepares for a wetter, warmer future
On the winter days when the monthly tides are highest, you can stand on the narrow, asphalt ribbon of the bike path that traverses Bothin Marsh in Mill Valley and watch the water of Richardson Bay climb over the man-made banks and rise slowly, inexorably, until its cold wetness reaches your shins. You are no longer on dry land. You are in the middle of the bay.
Flash forward to the year 2100. The earth has had 88 more years to warm up, and the seas have been rising a little more every year. Your grandkids stand in that same place on the marsh and wait for high tide. When it comes, the water flows over their heads.
That’s climate change. That’s the threat Marin County faces — higher seas, bigger tides and stronger waves that could drown the marshlands of Mill Valley and Novato, flood neighborhoods built on reclaimed land in Tam Valley, Santa Venetia and Hamilton, and erode the coastal bluffs of Bolinas.
The mess that rising seas could make of Marin is but a small part of the larger challenge climate change presents to the planet. But this story is not about the global effort to regulate carbon emissions, not about the national yammering of politicians, preachers and scientific professionals about why the earth is warming (is it man, is it nature, is it a vengeful God delivering payback for our profligate ways?), and not about whether the earth is in fact getting warmer. The mercury is rising and the oceans along with it.
This story is about Marin County and how a lot of people here are trying to make sure that come the day when the waters of San Francisco Bay — which have already risen 8 inches in the last century — are lapping at the doorsteps of homes and businesses now hundreds of feet from shore, that the inhabitants of that warmer, wetter future do not ask of our generation: Why didn’t they do something?
I made this photo of David Harris, the writer, onetime anti-war activist and ex-husband of singer Joan Baez, a couple of years ago, but it never saw the light of day. I was on assignment for Marin Magazine, which used a different frame (see the story and photo here.)
I came across this shot again while compressing the archives (a weekly task) and it made me think of meeting Harris. He was an iconic and heroic figure in my youth — a former Stanford student body president who made a stand against the Vietnam War by refusing the draft and doing prison time for it, and the guy who married the most luscious chanteuse of the day in an era when politically-minded folk singers were considered hot.
Four decades later when I met Harris in his Mill Valley home I was a bit intimidated and hoped I could make a picture worthy of my opinion of him, which when I left 45 minutes later I wasn’t sure I had (but I was even more self-critical in those days than I am now — something those who know me well might find hard to believe).
A couple of months later, the magazine chose one image and I worked up another (the one at left) for my book. I filed away the rest.
As I culled the shoot further today for archiving, I began to really like this frame. Harris seems patient, aware of my presence, but also awaiting my departure. It’s a moment in between. There’s no subterfuge, no pretense of me not being there. It seems to be an honest photo and, increasingly, that’s all I want to make.
Here’s Harris in his own words about what happened to him in the 1960s:
“If you were a young man in the United States in 1966, you had the option of being John Wayne in “The Sands of Iwo Jima” or John Wayne in “The Sands of Iwo Jima” or John Wayne in “The Sands of Iwo Jima.”
You’ve got cancer. You’ve got several bags of toxic chemicals connected to your body, hoping the chemo kills the tumors. Or, you’re lying beneath a huge X-ray machine, whose beams are burning the cancer out of you. In the middle of this a photographer approaches and asks if he can take your picture.
Why not? you think, so you say yes. He does, and a few weeks later there you are in a local magazine illustrating a story about the hospital where you’re being treated.
This is much of what I do — enter other people’s lives just long enough to tell a story (or, more accurately, a small moment of a story). I’m always surprised and forever in debt to those who grant me entrance, even when their lives might not be going particularly well in one way or another.
The inside-out view of CT scan machine above and the strip of photos below were part of a story in Marin Magazine about the Marin Cancer Institute and its director, Dr. Francine Halberg, who is shown below talking with colleagues.
One of the things I miss about journalism is the serendipity of encountering people who, through their strength of character in the face of adversity, remind me of my own good fortune. It’s called perspective, and you can never have too much of it.
For the current issue of Marin Magazine I had the opportunity to photograph a number of people — and write about a couple of them – who have benefited from the kindness of others in their journeys to overcome life’s adversities.
The most moving of these moments occurred when I met the people you see here — Tina and Bill Noble, above, and Tina Hick and her son, Indie, left. All of them are dealing with loss, one in a very intimate way and the other in tragically public manner.
Tina Noble is only 60 and in the latter stages of Alzheimer’s, which she was diagnosed with five years ago. Bill, her husband of nearly four decades, cares for her in their San Anselmo home. Hers is a life of diminishing capacity; his is one of increasing devotion. It is a poignant equation. After I photographed them on their living room couch, I sat in my car and cried. How many of us are capable of the unqualified love Bill demonstrates daily toward Tina? Am I? Are you?
Tika Hick’s story is more public. A virulent cancer had attacked her. In July, a week before she was to undergo a double mastectomy, she traveled to Maui with her partner, David Potts, and their infant son, Indigo. In a horrific accident, Potts was sucked into a blowhole, dragged out to sea and never seen again. Now, Hick’s life is one of tenuous recovery, one so emotionally fragile that even the presence of a photographer in her small garden can fuel the sadness and bring more tears.
Sad stories, indeed, but also hopeful ones because within them are other stories of kindness, of organizations like Senior Access that benefit couples like the Nobles and of personal giving that supports someone like Tika Hick.
In addition to the Nobles and Hick I photographed four other people. You can see their photos below. Here are summaries of their stories and the organizations that helped them:
* Stephen Levine, who turned to Hospice by The Bay in Marin County when his wife of 24 years, Pam, was dying.
* Pashia Lord, a Marin City mom who found a positive direction through the Performing Stars of Marin arts group.
* Sheldon Playdle, a San Luis Obispo college student (and possible future bio-tech executive) whose path to higher education was paved in part by 10,000 Degrees.
Here’s the full package in Marin Magazine. My test on Tina and Bill Noble follows:
“Why did I get Alzheimer’s? Why me? And how did I get it? I’m so young—just fifty-five.”
Tina Noble wrote those words five years ago, just after being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Today, the former college professor with a Ph.D. in anthropology lives under the 24-hour care of her husband of nearly 40 years, Bill, a retired naturalist.
When Tina does leave the couple’s San Anselmo home, it’s usually to spend the day at The Club, a Senior Access program for people with memory impairment.
“It’s a beautiful place way up on top of the hills in Terra Linda. Sunny. Open,” says Bill. “There is a school next door so there’s the wonderful chatter of young kids all the time. There are lots of interns and aides and resource people. They do everything from elder yoga to having performers of various kinds come in. It’s delightful.”
More than 5 million Americans have Alzheimer’s and nearly 15 million others perform roles like Bill Noble’s, caring for family or friends. Senior Access recently opened another day care center in Belvedere to meet the rising demand in Marin.
Bill and Tina’s daughter, Wren, a graduate student in photography, has been documenting her mother’s illness. You can see her pictures here.
Having the name Johnny Heineken is cool enough, but add in good looks, golden locks, an engineering degree and a world championship in kitesurfing then you’ve got more cool going for you than most 23-year-olds might deserve. Luckily, Johnny Heineken is as laid back as he looks and fun to photograph.
Here he is in the studio in San Rafael during a shoot for Marin Magazine. I’m sharing this wider shot so you can get see how much of what my wife sometimes calls “photo crap” — i.e., gear — is involved in making what becomes a simple white background image when printed. Here there are five lights, three of which you can see and two others behind the black foam boards pointed at the background.
I adjusted the lights several times during this shoot depending on where Johnny held his kitesurfing board (made by Mikes Lab in El Sobrante) in order to keep shadows off his face.
As I messed with technical stuff, Johnny chatted with writer Mimi Towle, who, among other things, learned three key facts about Heineken:
1. Johnny’s favorite drink is a Lagunitas at the Silver Peso in Larkspur. “I can skate there and walk home.”
2. His favorite pizza? Stefano’s chicken pesto.
3. And, yes, his last name is connected to that Dutch beer company.
Here’s the whole interview. And on the left is how the final shot appeared in the October issue of the magazine.
One reason I like hanging out with ranchers is the simplicity of what they do: Raise animals, then sell them to the rest of us as food. As a basic business model, it can’t be beat conceptually.
Of course, there’s nothing simple about ranching these days. There’s the ever-rising costs of grain and land and gas. There’s the mega-ranches driving down milk and beef prices so low that smaller ranchers are cashing in good grassland for condo developments. And, there’s the work, the seven-day, crack-of-dawn-t0-last-light, never-ending work, a list of to-do’s that runs longer than the barbed wire around a 40-acre plot.
That means that family ranchers aren’t simple people either anymore. In order to have something more left at year’s end than a promise of another 365 days ahead like the ones just finished, something they can leave their kids with the hope that they’ll stay on the land, many small ranchers are now applying the same effort to expanding their businesses, eliminating the middleman and connecting with consumers as they always have to breeding their herds, compiling their silage and keeping the barn cats happy.
Dairymen are making cheese. Cattlemen are growing organic apples. Ranching families are leasing and to urban escapees who want to try their hands at something new, such as raising water buffalo in order to make mozzarella.
Marin County is a national leader in this sort of agri-innovation and for the current issue of Marin Magazine I had the opportunity to illustrate a story – reported and written by Inverness journalist Jacoba Charles – about how four local families are changing the concept of ranching.
In the course of shooting on the different ranches I got licked by a water buffalo (not so bad), had my index fingered suckled by heifer (more fun than I should admit) and more than once knelt in something soft and warm (hey, it’s organic).
Here are snapshots of the four shoots (the full story is here):
* Mike and Sally Gale’s ranch is on Chileno Valley Road, one of West Marin’s prettiest roads, undulates over 600 acres, plenty of room for the Black Angus cattle they raise and sell directly, butchered and freezer-ready, to grass-fed beef lovers. Since returning to Marin in 1993, the Gales have expanded the offerings of the Chileno Valley Ranch to pork, eggs and organic apples, pears and more.
* Bob Giacomini has been raising Holsteins in Point Reyes Station for more than 50 years, and is part of a sprawling farm family whose Swiss-Italian roots extend back 100 years in Marin and Sonoma counties. Ten years ago, Giacomini’s four daughters – Karen, Diana, Lynn and Jill – launched the Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Company. Now, they’ve added The Fork at Point Reyes, a cooking school and event space located dab smack in the middle of the family’s 700-acre ranch overlooking Tomales Bay.
* What the Giacominis are to Point Reyes, meaning iconic and ubiquitous in name, the Lafranchis are to Nicasio. Fredolino Lafranchi, also a Swiss immigrant, began ranching in Nicasio in 1919. Today, his grandchildren still make milk, although now it’s organic, and use it as the base for a line of farmstead cheeses sold through their new Nicasio Valley Cheese Company. “We looked on it as a chance to allow the ranch to continue, because the dairy business has been really hard for the last 10 years,” said Rick Lafranchi.
* Craig Ramini has traded in the high-tech life of Silicon Valley and software consulting for the decidedly retro world of Tomales and cheese-making. Ramini leases 25 acres from longtime rancher Al Poncia that he’s using to raise Asian water buffalo, whose milk he’ll turn into mozzarella di bufala and sell under the name Ramini Mozzarella. Ramini is living out a new dream and Poncia is finding a way to sustain his family ranch.
Here’s what Poncia told the Marin IJ earlier this year in a story about Ramini’s plans:
“A long time ago, sometime in the late ’60s to mid-’70s, someone who was pre-eminent in the dairy business told me, ‘Al, agriculture in Marin County is dead.’ But I wanted my chance. And I’ve had it. And luckily, because we’ve held on up here, I’m now able to provide other people with that opportunity — including my son, who is working very hard with his grass-fed beef operation (Stemple Creek Ranch).
“And now Craig’s come along with his boutique cheesemaking plans, and I think that fits into where Marin, Sonoma and the whole Bay Area’s agriculture is going,” said Poncia, whose grandfather purchased his ranch in 1901. “Our ranch is now producing diversified products for a local market, which is something we haven’t been able to do for quite some years.”