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Toluma Goat Dairy in Tomales

Tamara Hicks, Bekah Waters, and Gina Kindlespire of Toluma Farms

At nine o'clock each morning and evening, either one or all of the women to the left will milk a growing herd of dairy goats just west of the village of Tomales. This milking string is a rowdy group of does just getting used to their full-time jobs of providing fresh milk for Toluma Farms, Marin's newest farmstead milk and cheese operation, owned and operated by Tamara Hicks and her husband, Dave Jablons. The San Francisco couple purchased the Gobbi Ranch in 2002. "We wanted to find something to do with the ranch that would  give us a living, be healthy and positive for the land, and provide some kind of an educational resource for city kids," Tamara explains. "We looked at what to do at the farm, and decided on goats and eventually, farmstead cheese," she says.

Toluma Farms is just one of the new farming enterprises popping up in northwest Marin County these days. Right down the road in Marshall, Marcia Barinaga and Cory Goodwin are constructing a brand new farmstead sheep dairy and cheese plant. John Williams and Ted Hall from Napa have purchased the Cerini Ranch in Tomales and have begun the long haul of renovating the home ranch to produce world-class farmstead organic aged cheeses. Just across the street from Williams, Jan and Louis Lee are putting in two acres of organic apples and are planning on opening a small cider operation.

Toluma Farms is managed by Gina Kindlespire, a local dairywoman who started working with goats at the Pacheco dairy. She is joined by her daughter, Bekah Waters, a sophomore at Tomales High School, milking and taking care of the growing herd of 150 goats. They are building a brand new milking string and both women are wrestling the wily does at every milking getting them adjusted to regular milking. "They're not like cows," says Gina, "These animals go with the weather. If it's warm and comfortable they want to be milked. If it's cool and wet, they want to stay in bed."

Currently all the milk is going to Redwood Hill Farms in Sebastopol to be made into soft cheeses and yogurt, but Tamara plans to make her own cheese soon. She is working with Eric Patterson from Cowgirl Creamery on a soft cheese that "fits in with our terroir and coastal climate. A farmstead cheese facility and a great product are goals for Tamara and her husband.

An added-value component to Toluma Farms is an educational program to bring urban kids, mostly from challenged backgrounds, to the ranch for overnight camping trips and farm education activities. "I realized in my work," says Tamara, a school psychologist, "that many of these children would never be able to see how their food is grown. Our farm can open up a whole new world to them. We are looking forward to programs that will bring them here to live and experience the real pleasures of work and farm life."

Toluma Farms is the kind of new farming development that is such a perfect fit for the changing landscapes of Marin. It utilizes one of our main assets, the grasslands. Milk is a tradition here, and that is what the farm produces. The owners were financially able to rebuild the ranch as a working, productive dairy, not just as a second home. They are committed to land conservation and have already worked with the Marin Resource Conservation District on creek restoration and watershed management. They have hired local farmers to help and are already contributing to our "foodshed."

Today, the agricultural population of Marin is diversifying. The traditional farmers, the backbone of the community, are being joined by serious and dedicated new entry farmers and small-scale crop farmers, all of which are on the path to sustainability and health for our beautiful and abundant farmlands.