Straus Family Legacy

BILL AND ELLEN STRAUS — JOURNEY TO THE NORTHERN CALIFORNIA COAST

Straus Family Creamery Founder/CEO Albert Straus is the oldest son of Bill and Ellen Straus. Bill began his dairy farm in the early 1940s in Marshall, on the beautiful shores of Tomales Bay, and Ellen joined him in 1950. They started out small, with only 23 Jersey cows, which they named after family and friends.

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 and ellen straus vintage photo

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.

Ellen Straus was born Ellen Prins 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.

bill and ellen straus young smiling
bill and ellen straus smiling

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 92 ranches, family farms, and dairies covering more than 55,000 acres.  With its progressive vision and remarkable success, MALT has become a model for land trusts across 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.

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.

Straus Dairy FarM

The family had stopped using herbicides on their farm in the mid-1970s, and in the early 1980s, Albert replaced tilling fields, used to grow silage, with a no-till method of planting, to prevent soil erosion and reduce fuel consumption. He also stopped using chemical fertilizers (which had been minimal for decades) in the mid-1980s.

To bring food waste back into the system for cows, Albert sourced cow feeds from creative and unusual places, such as orange peel and pulp from a family-owned fresh orange juice factory in San Francisco, and rice sake waste from a local distillery.

Over the course of several decades, a manure wastewater pond system was implemented and improved beyond state and federal requirements. This enabled the dairy to use manure solids to be naturally composted and used as fertilizer, and to turn manure liquids back into nutrient-rich water for irrigation of pastures.

albert straus looking at herd of cows
herd of cows on farm with mountains

Bill and Ellen’s four children were raised on the ranch. By the time they reached adulthood, the California dairy industry was in transition and a different, much larger, industrial type of dairy farm had begun to spread itself on the land.

By the 1970s, the typical landscape of small family dairy farming in Northern California had shifted dramatically. Over a few short decades, the number of licensed dairy farms in the United States sharply declined from 4.6 million in 1940 to just more than 40,000 in 2018. The number of cows had also declined, from 22 million in 1940 to slightly over 9 million in 2016, according to the USDA.

To help solve the economic problems family dairies increasingly faced, Albert took a radical step — In 1994, he converted the family farm to organic and founded Straus Family Creamery, the first 100% certified organic creamery in the country.

Of course, the certified organic milk produced at the Straus Dairy Farm isn’t enough to make all the organic dairy products. To sustain the integrity of the organic process and keep the approximate ratio of one cow per acre of land, Albert wouldn’t add any more cows to his herd. Straus Family Creamery buys certified organic, Non-GMO Project Verified milk from eleven other organic, local family farms: the two Tresch Family Dairy Farms, Hughes Family Dairy, Correia Family Dairy, Brazil Family Farm, Silacci Dairy, Mendoza Dairy, Cypress Lane Ranch, Silva Family Dairy, Drakes View Dairy, and JJ’s Family Dairy.

glass bottles of straus organic whole and chocolate milk
cows laying down on farm

Today, approximately 85% of the dairy farms in Marin and Sonoma Counties in Northern California are certified organic. Straus Family Creamery continues to make business decisions based on its mission to help sustain family farms, revitalize rural communities, and protect the environment.

Albert Straus

Founder & CEO

Inspired by ethical and economic considerations, Straus converted his family farm to organic, becoming the first certified organic dairy farm west of the Mississippi River.