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October, 2007



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Bolinas Museum Celebrates The Life And Agricultural History of Bolinas
By Elia Haworth

The town of Bolinas exists because of the Bolinas Lagoon and it's surrounding fertile land. The town developed around the wharf area that offered easy access for schooner traffic between Bolinas and San Francisco. Its economic base was the production of great food. For over 70 years schooners were the life-line to the lucrative markets in San Francisco, for Bolinas, the Olema Valley ranches and businesses as far away as Samuel P. Taylor's paper mill near Lagunitas. For a time Bolinas Lagoon was the site of prolific schooner building as well.
Today, Bolinas is home to remarkable commercial farmers and ranchers who have gained local admiration and international recognition for their commitment to the health of their land and the high quality food that they produce. All of them work land that has a long history of agriculture. An 1867 map shows virtually every acre of land around the Bolinas Lagoon was part of a ranch, even the treeless, windswept Big Mesa. Each field and pasture has history in its soil.

On October 27th you are invited to celebrate our local farmers and ranchers at the Bolinas Museum's Bolinas Farm Day and the opening of a history room exhibit on the continuity of food production in Bolinas. Sandy Dierks, who is working with history curator Elia Haworth to create the exhibition, lives on land that is layered with human history. Sandy and Dennis Dierks' Paradise Valley Produce farm is on land that was once occupied by a Native American's settlement. In the 1800s there was a farm and orchard. The house burned down, but the gnarled apple trees still produce abundant fruit. There was also a more recent heritage apple trees business on the land. The Dierk's fields are in rich creek bottomland, cupped in a bowl of sun in the sheltered valley.

Before the Europeans came and altered the landscape forever, the First People, the Coast Miwok, lived in an environment of such extravagant natural abundance that is hard to imagine today. The ravines were filled with primeval forests of towering redwood trees and pines. The hills were covered with nutrient rich bunch grass and huge oak trees. Thousands of birds, animals, insects and sea creatures filled their world with a cacophony of voices. Condors rode wind thermals above great herds of deer and elk along with countless other animals. Grizzly and Brown bears roamed everywhere. The ocean and the lagoon (actually an estuary that has existed for 7000 years) teemed with life. The Coast Miwok people were intimately in tune with their surroundings and skillfully tended and managed their land. Everything they needed was provided by nature or from trade with other tribes. These humans lived as members of the complex web of life around them. The arrival of Spanish missionaries began the devastation of their culture.

When California became part of Mexico, a Californian named Rafael Garcia was awarded a vast Mexican Land Grant, Rancho Baulines. It encompasses today's Dogtown, Bolinas, Stinson Beach and even 'up the ridge.' Garcia is credited as the first non-native to settle in the Bolinas area. Within a few years he gave Rancho Baulines to his sister, Ramona, and her husband, Gregorio Briones. In 1837 the Briones became the first pioneer family of Bolinas. Their livestock numbered in the thousands. Cattle for meat, hides and tallow for the busy export trade to Spain, horses for the family and their vaqueros and sheep for wool. Their gardens provided for the family, their workers (usually Coast Miwok people) and a stream of guests, including most of the first families of Marin County. It must have been an idyllic life.

The discovery of gold altered the destiny of Northern California. As word of the discovery reached around the world, ships arrived pouring thousands of people into the little settlement of San Francisco. They needed shelter, firewood and food; San Francisco became a vortex that pulled in the resources of most of Northern California.

Recognizing the need for supplies, a group of entrepreneurs saw Bolinas as the ideal site to take redwood trees for piers and lumber because of easy schooner access through the lagoon and the location's proximity by sea to San Francisco. When Gregorio Briones agreed to allow the men to log his land he couldn't have known that he was ending his family's way of life. Suddenly the quiet forest was shattered by giant redwoods crashing to the ground and the noise of lumber jacks, mill workers, builders, ship crews and men who drove big teams of oxen to drag the lumber to the warehouse at the north end of the lagoon. It was the Bolinas wharf where 'lighters' were loaded to float the lumber to The Point (now Bolinas town) to load on schooners for transport to San Francisco. Hundreds of men, mostly Yankees, came for the industry that centered around today's settlement of Dogtown. And they needed to be fed. Gardens were established, introducing new plants, while hunters went after the abundant wildlife. The newcomers also simplified the spelling of Rancho Baulines to Bolinas. Dogtown was called Bolinas too, and the site of today's town, where the schooners docked, was called "The Point." All the land of the Rancho, including today's Stinson Beach, was Bolinas.

Busy schooner traffic carried equipment and supplies to Bolinas and lumber to San Francisco. Many of the Captains of the schooners saw the rich land around the lagoon and realized that they could make a good life by producing food for the hungry throngs in San Francisco. Most of the first settlers after the Briones were men who had spent most of their lives at sea. Many had come around the Horn of South America and some had been whalers in the north. They were highly competent men who adapted their skills to the land. They found wives (including Briones daughters) and started families whose children eventually married into other local ranch families, beginning a loose community and a tradition of food production.

Soon all the land of Bolinas was claimed by ranches, including most of the canyons on the East side of the lagoon and the treeless windswept Big Mesa. Dairy cows dominated the landscape because the demand for butter and cheese seemed endless. The food products were diverse, including beef and vegetables, potatoes, chickens, hay for the city's horses, apples and more unusual items. The Gritner Brothers had a trout farm where the Buell's Peace Barn is today and William McKennon produced up to 1,000 duck eggs a day for market.

The town of Bolinas started to form about 1852, when a tiny saloon was established at The Point. It was such a success with the hard working men, that several more sprang up... and by 1865, The Point was known as Jugville. Soon hotels lined Wharf Road along the water's edge, with docks for schooners. Families from as far away as Sacramento came to spend the summer in the cool climate and the thriving Summer Colony was born. But there was nowhere to build family homes until Frank and Nelly Waterhouse created a subdivision on Brighton Avenue. Local produce and meat were sold in the mercantile and meat market in town and by wagons that went from house to house offering their selection. Up to the 1950s there was even an artichoke field in the heart of town where the Bolinas Community Center is now.

Today, fishing boats have replaced the schooners and many things have changed. However,

food production has never stopped. Peter and his sister, Susan Martinelli, harvest succulent crops on land that has been in the family for generations. As does Jim Tacherra and his family. Tacherras were among many Portuguese families who came to West Marin from the Azores and developed successful ranches. Now, in early October, newborn calves romp in the Tacherra field at the end of Overlook Road and a new cycle begins.

At Blackberry Farm, built by Juana Briones, Aggie Murch just held an apple pressing with traditional wooden equipment and pure cotton cloth from Paris. Friends from far and wide brought apples and John Perry guided them through making wonderful, clear apple juice.

Down the road, internationally acclaimed Star Route Farm produces on land that was first worked by the Briones and their extended family. On the Mesa, Niman organic beef cattle roam former ranch lands and the old Garzoli ranch is now Commonweal Garden.

At the old Pepper homestead near the school, Don Murch has worked Gospel Flats Farm for years. Now his son Mickey has joined him, bringing youthful energy and new ideas. Each farm and ranch has had to change with the times and cultivate innovative new ways to draw people into economically supporting local farms. The reward is extraordinary. There is nothing like the pleasure of eating sumptuous locally grown, sun ripened food from the fertile soil and clean air of the Bolinas landscape.

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