IN 1914, at the advent of World War I, Bill Straus was born in Hamburg, Germany. As a young man, he was drawn to farming, which at the time was all but forbidden for Jews
in Europe. So Bill and his mother fled to
Palestine to work on a kibbutz and eventually
to the west coast of America, where his grandfather had lived from the 1850s to the 1890s.
In the late 1930s, Bill received an agriculture degree from UC Davis, and in 1941, when
he was 27 years old, he bought a dairy farm in
Marshall, a farming community on the shores
of Tomales Bay in Marin County. At the time,
he had 23 Jersey cows. After nine years of living alone, Bill married Ellen Prins, who was
born in Amsterdam, Holland, and in 1955, Bill
and Ellen welcomed Albert, their first of four
children, into their family.
I’ve developed a methane digester, which
converts cow manure into electricity that
powers the entire farm. When I’m finished
at the farm, I drive six miles inland on the
Marshall-Petaluma Road to Straus Family
Creamery. And after checking on that, I
head to our offices and distribution center in
Petaluma. I’m running the day-to-day needs
of the farm and the creamery from Petaluma.
I drive approximately 50 miles a day in my
all-electric Nissan Leaf. I’m back checking on
the farm again in the late afternoon.
Today, Albert Straus is the founder and
CEO of Straus Family Creamery, a privately
held company with 140 employees, and nine
cooperating certified organic dairy farms,
including the Straus Dairy Farm, that produce
a wide assortment of organic milk, butter,
yogurt and ice cream products that are sold
throughout the western United States. The
products are also served in many of the Bay
Area’s finest restaurants.
What milk products come out of the Straus
Family Creamery? We have organic whipping
cream, half-and-half, and a variety of cream-
top milk in reusable glass bottles; we produce
sour cream; we have 11 different flavors of
organic ice cream and nine different types of
organic European-Style yogurt plus several
varieties of Greek yogurt; and we produce
a sweet and a salted butter. Our butters are
used at such restaurants as Chez Panisse in
Berkeley and the French Laundry, and our
high-butterfat milk is used by popular ice
cream makers like Bi-Rite Creamery in San
Francisco and Fairfax Scoop in Marin. We’re
a midsize creamery; many of our competitors
are four or five times larger.
What qualifies a dairy to be labeled organic?
In 1994, Straus Family Creamery was the first
creamery to be certified 100 percent organic in
the United States and the Straus Dairy Farm
was the first certified organic dairy farm west
of the Mississippi River. Now, 23 years later,
nearly 90 percent of the dairy farms in Marin
and Sonoma counties are certified as organic.
To be certified organic, you must demonstrate
that all your cows and calves’ feeds are certified organic, including pasture. This means
all animal feed must be GMO free and grown
without the use of synthetic fertilizers, herbicides or pesticides. Organic certification means
that your cows can’t be given growth hormones,
steroids or antibiotics ever; they must have year-round access to the pasture and the outdoors
(weather permitting) and, of course, always
be treated in a humane way. Organic farming
practices must be inspected and approved by a
third-party agency represented by the United
States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and
approved for organic use as required by the
USDA’s National Organic Program.
Are most of your 140 employees immigrants?
If so, how are they coping with Trump’s tight-
ening of requirements? And what, if anything,
are you doing to help them? I think 85 percent
Albert and his wife still live in the house
in Marshall on the shores of Tomales Bay that
his father, Bill, purchased in 1941. Bill died
in 2003. Albert’s mother, Ellen Straus, who
passed away in 2002, co-founded the Marin
Agricultural Land Trust (MALT), a highly successful nonprofit, with Phyllis Faber in 1980
that has been instrumental in preserving
more than 48,000 acres of ranchland
in West Marin.
Tell us about your typical day. My day starts at
5:30 a.m., when I do things like check on the
farm and make sure everything is running
properly. One of the farm’s priorities is to
demonstrate that we’re a solution to climate
change. We were California’s first dairy to
develop a carbon farm plan, a 20-year plan
to sequester 2,000 metric tons of carbon
every year. We take CO2 from the air and
put it into the soil through plant material.
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