Straus Family Legacy

Bill and Ellen Straus — Journey to the Northern California Coast

Albert Straus and his three siblings were greatly influenced by their parents Bill and Ellen Straus, who were very early environmentalists with a steadfast commitment to be stewards of the land. They saw farmland as a part of a much bigger, natural world that needed to be respected and preserved on its own terms.

Bill Straus was born at the onset of the First World War in 1914 in Hamburg, Germany. In 1934, inspired by his father’s profession, he set out with a group of young Jews involved in the Zionist agricultural youth movement, taking a series of hands-on agricultural courses in the Czech Republic. Bill wanted to practice farming, something never before possible for Jews in Europe.

Fleeing the increasing threat of the Nazis, Bill and his mother went first to Palestine in 1936. Later, in 1937, visiting land owned by family members near San Luis Obispo, he fell in love with the California landscape and chose to settle there.

After studying agriculture at the University of California in Berkeley and Davis, Bill purchased a small dairy on Tomales Bay in 1941. The dairy was on the outskirts of the hamlet of Marshall, situated on the eastern shore of Tomales Bay in western Marin County. He started farming with 23 Jersey cows, which he named after family and friends.

Straus was an innovative dairyman, often the first in the region to adopt new and environmentally-sound agricultural practices. He co-founded the Tomales Bay Association, which served as a coalition of the area’s environmentalists and farmers, just one of many steps for land conservation.

Bill and Ellen Straus’ commitment to agriculture and the environment helped launch a conservation movement that has permanently saved tens of thousands of acres of endangered agricultural land from subdivision.

Ellen Prins was born in 1927 in Amsterdam, Holland. In February 1940, she and her family fled to New York, just ahead of the Nazi invasion of Holland. She and Bill Straus were married in 1950.

Inspired by Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring, Ellen became a committed proponent of environmental stewardship, serving on numerous nonprofit boards, including Marin Conservation League, Marin Community Foundation, Environmental Action Committee, Greenbelt Alliance, Eastshore Planning Group, West Marin Growers, Tomales Bay Advisory Committee, and Environmental Forum. She also co-founded Marin Organic and the Focus on Family Farms Day.

In 1994, Straus Family Creamery became the first 100 % certified organic creamery in the country. Ellen was instrumental in helping design many of the cow images still represented in all Straus Family Creamery brand elements including the signature reusable glass bottles.

As an avid environmentalist and farmer, Ellen will be remembered for co-founding, with friend Phyllis Faber, the Marin Agricultural Land Trust (MALT) in 1980. To date, MALT has acquired development easements on 82 ranches, family farms, and dairies covering more than 50,000 acres. With its progressive vision and remarkable success, MALT has become a model for land trusts across the country.

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