Cloudflare TV

🌱 Fireside Chat with Project Galileo participant: MALT

Presented by Andie Goodwin, Zach Mendes, Matt Dolkas
Originally aired on 

As part of celebrating Earth Day, we're chatting with Project Galileo participant Marin Agricultural Land Trust (MALT), which describes itself as the "first farmland trust in the nation." Join Andie Goodwin from Cloudflare Impact for this conversation with Zach Mendes, director of land protection, and Matt Dolkas, senior manager, marketing and communications.

We'll discuss MALT's mission to "permanently protect Marin’s agricultural land for agricultural use," recent projects they're excited about, and their cybersecurity capabilities.

Project Galileo is a program that provides free security protection to 2,000 organizations working in the arts, human rights, civil society, journalism, and democracy. Learn more at .

Project Galileo

Transcript (Beta)

Welcome to Cloudflare TV. Thanks for tuning in. I'm Andie Goodwin. I'm from Cloudflare Impact.

This program was put together by Greencloud, our employee working group on sustainability.

I help support Project Galileo, our program that provides free cybersecurity services to more than 2,000 vulnerable organizations, working in the arts, human rights, democracy, and many other important areas.

For Earth Day, I really want to talk with one of our Project Galileo participants that's focused on the environment and sustainability.

And so here I am joined by Matt and Zach from the Marin Agricultural Land Trust, or MALT.

Matt Dolkas is Senior Manager of Marketing and Communications.

Zach Mendes is Director of Land Protection.

Matt and Zach, thank you so much for joining me. Yeah, thanks for having us Andie.

Yeah, thanks so much. Good to be here. Wonderful. Well, I want to start off by asking, personally or professionally, were there any ways that you chose to celebrate or mark Earth Day this year?

Yeah, go ahead Zach. Yeah, thanks Matt.

Yeah. Earth Day happened to fall this year for us. I live in the neighboring county to Marin County, so Sonoma County, and Petaluma.

We had our butter and eggs parade that is kind of a celebration of the agricultural heritage in the community.

So I took the little kids to the parade, nice day out in the sun, watching all the folks go by.

So, just, it's a great day. That's charming. How about you Matt?

Nice, similar. Just, yeah, a lot of family time and we have six goats.

Spent a lot of time with our goats out in the sun and so yeah, that was a personal celebration but the organization MALT, we just say MALT, Marin Agricultural Land Trust.

We ran an Earth Day campaign over the last, I think, two weeks. So, part of the celebration for us as staff was just finishing that fundraising campaign.

But yeah, good, beautiful time of year here in Marin. Lots of wildflowers and just lots of ways to celebrate for sure.

Fantastic. How did the fundraising campaign go?

Really well. Yeah, we had a $20,000 match that we were shooting for. We met the match.

And I think, you know, the fundraising is just a piece of it. A big part of it is just getting our name in front of folks during Earth Day.

And so we had a lot of great communication, a lot of good material.

And yeah, success. Oh, that's great to hear.

Well, for our viewers, let's start out by talking about MALT's mission, programs, and then I'd also really like to hear about your individual roles too within the organization.

Matt, do we want to start with you?

Yeah, sure. So I can start just by sharing a little bit about MALT's history and where we're working.

And Zach, feel free to jump in here. Sure. But yeah, so we're the Marin Agricultural Land Trust, and we work to protect farmland in Marin County, which is the county just north of San Francisco.

And it is a tremendously beautiful place.

And some really rich farmland as well. And as you can imagine, there's an incredible amount of urban pressure throughout the Bay Area.

And so farmland here is at risk of being converted from farmland into suburban housing or other uses.

And so our organization was founded in 1980 to protect farmland from that threat of development and ensure that it stays in agricultural production.

And so, yeah, that's a little bit about MALT to start, but my role as the Senior Manager of Marketing and Communications is really to help tell that story of what we do and to build a community of supporters across the Bay Area, across California and nationwide to support our mission.

So, yeah. Yeah, thanks.

Thanks, Matt. I think I'll add to that is, you know, Matt mentioned the farm and ranch land protection that we do.

And currently we've protected over 55,700 acres in Marin County, which is about just over half of the privately held agricultural land that's in the county.

And we primarily do that through agricultural conservation easements.

So we're a holder of the easements, but the farmers and ranchers still own the property and actively manage through farming and ranching.

And then my role at MALT is Director of Land Protection, and I oversee the land protection transactions for new conservation easements, as well as the ongoing compliance after we acquire a conservation easement that the firms are lived up to, the agreement between the farmer, rancher, and MALT, so that the natural resources are protected in perpetuity.

That's exciting. And this is an issue that's really close to my heart.

There's a family farm in my paternal family that now my brother manages that's been handed down over hundreds of years.

And I've definitely seen for other families the kind of pressure to split up, sell, find someone to take care of it, that there's just, there are so many unknown variables.

So thank you for that explanation. Over the past year or coming up, what projects are you both really excited about?

Yeah, I think, you know, we just, we just wrapped one up a little over a month ago, actually, it was 539 acres, our newest conservation easement, Duncan Ranch, as we as we know it.

The beef cattle grazing operation, and, you know, a good mix of habitat, grasslands, some oak woodlands.

And what, you know, what was really great about that one is it was a connecting piece and a contiguous block of agricultural land that we've protected.

But I think it ended up being over 10,000 contiguous acres, which stretches from Tomales Bay, that's kind of the western edge of our county, all the way to the Sonoma County line to the east.

So a good, a good linkage of habitat and protected farmland.

And then our next one that we hope to close, you know, in the next few months or so, will be another about 590 acres right along Tomales Bay that will be another added piece to a big contiguous block of protected land.

That's a huge area.

Wow. Matt, how about for you? Anything top of mind? Yeah, for us on the comm side, we're working to update our homepage.

And that's going to, that's going to be rolling out probably in the next few weeks.

And that's hopefully going to be a good, pretty, it's a sizable lift for us.

And it hopefully is a game changer just in terms of, you know, user engagement on the site, and our ability to push traffic to stories like the protection of the Duncan Ranch.

So, yeah, looking forward to that and, and so many great land protection projects in the works that, yeah, we've got a lot of good stories in the pipeline, for sure.

Good luck with the homepage, and definitely a website is such an important part of an organization's fundraising abilities, but then also security.

Matt, could you give me an idea of what your cybersecurity capabilities look like right now, and how they looked before Project Galileo?

Yeah. So when I joined the organization about a year ago, the site domain was hosted in a place that just wasn't secure, and it left us feeling very unconfident and questioned, yeah, the integrity of the site and for us to build upon that platform just really didn't make any sense.

And we needed, we knew, we know we needed to move, and we were fortunate that we got accepted into Project Galileo, and yeah, things are, I feel like we moved from like, you know, really beat up, you know, ground level apartment, and now we're in this like nice gated community and things are, you know, it's just, it's so much safer and our ability to really scale and build upon the work that's already been done for Malt is now just so much more secure.

And yeah, so it's been a good, it's been, yeah, a great, great progress so far.

So again, yeah, keep going.

I like that. How was your onboarding experience overall, both with Project Galileo and maybe turning on any products or features?

Did you notice any results you were excited about?

Yeah, I think it's been totally seamless. And I think the biggest thing is that we've noticed is just site speed.

The site is definitely performing a lot faster than it was, which helps tremendously as we do a lot of lead generation.

And as part of the way that we're building our community of supporters is by advertising things like a wildflower guide or a hiking guide.

And for those experiences to really work and for us to be efficient at garnering that support, site needs to be fast and secure.

So definitely seeing lots of improvements there, for sure.

Wonderful. I'd love to hear about what Earth Day means for Malt overall and just any context you can provide about like what's special about Marin County and why, what kind of pressures you're facing?

Yeah, I can start off that, Matt, if you want, and please fill in the gaps.

Yeah, I think, you know, when we launched that Earth Day campaign for Malt last week or so, you know, it was really highlighting the fact that Malt was founded, you know, 43 years ago by just two amazing women, one an environmentalist, one a dairy farmer, and their combined efforts, you know, coming together with the goal of protecting the community that they, you know, that they lived in, the land that they love.

In order to, you know, for it to be a place for future generations to enjoy.

And today, because of their efforts and the existence of Malt, the landscape that they are focused on is, you know, largely unchanged.

And Marin County is particularly a very rich, biodiverse region.

And so, you know, at Malt, we feel it's our responsibility to kind of see their work, carry it forward and continue it to ensure that the local landscape and the food system that we're protecting through the agricultural conservation easements remains for the next generations.

I like that. Yeah, and I'm really excited about our land stewardship work as well, like it's our Malt is not just about protecting the land in perpetuity, you know, for agriculture and for wildlife, but also stewarding it so that it's at its healthiest and that is so important, especially as we're grappling with what we do with addressing climate change and a big piece of the answer to that, you know, complicated equation is the stewardship of agricultural spaces and using agriculture as a tool to sink carbon in the ground.

And it's something that I'm learning a lot more about here at Malt, but it's exciting to see a lot of that happening on the ground and the conversations happening at the producer level.

And that it's, it seems like there's an emergence of understanding of agriculture's role in that space.

So that's another, for me personally, it just is where I get excited about this work.

That's really interesting. And what role does your website play in your ability to gain awareness, fundraise, like, how is your website important for Malt?

Yeah, I mean, it's the central pillar of all of our communications, you know, we are working to, we have a lot of different campaigns that will run, like we'll have a printed newsletter, for example.

And that's one way that we're communicating to our base of support, but we're often driving traffic back to our website to have more engagement and pull people into interesting content, a story about a protected ranch, or an event that we're running at a local ranch.

And so the site is really the hub for that, the community's gathering place.

And it's pivotal, and it will continue to be.

It's just, we found that, you know, through all the different channels that we're currently working to communicate to our audience, you know, email and our site are our two most powerful means of communication.

And it's endless too, you know, we're endlessly working to refine that communication and to build a deeper engagement and deeper relationship with this whole community.

So, I mean, I can't say enough.

I'm obviously the preacher here, but yeah, the site is, yeah, it's essential.

I'll be psyched to see what the next iteration looks like. I was taking a look at your impact report today, and the pictures in it were so gorgeous, and I loved the layout.

Absolutely beautiful. For another organization, let's say working in environmental or sustainability areas, if they ask for your advice on how to protect their site, do you have any recommendations on what you think they should prioritize, other than applying for Project Galileo, of course?

I mean, yeah, Project Galileo. And I think, you know, that piece of it is not my specialty.

I think that there's just like, you know, standard, you know, password protection.

And I would, I think, leveraging expertise, you know, like yourself and, you know, folks at, other folks at Project Galileo.

And if you don't understand the value of that and how to protect yourself, find someone who can help you.

I think that's really the, for myself, that's what I've needed to do is I don't, it's not my realm of expertise.

I hear that. I've never been more humbled than every day asking people the most technical questions.

And especially since so many nonprofits will have some really small staffs, limited budgets.

We, yesterday, sorry, last year, we published our impact portal to really help make onboarding easier and explain these concepts, have video walkthroughs.

So that's something available for Project Galileo participants to really help them understand what they need to prioritize and how to do it, especially with lots of resources and making it easy to understand.

Let's see. Looking to see what else I had that I wanted to discuss.

Zach, I'd love to hear about your project for drought.

Like, how did this come about? What are some of the challenges there?

And how's that going so far? Yeah. So, you know, as Matt mentioned, we, the stewardship work on the ground is a big part of what we do.

And Malt's lucky enough in the land trust world to be able to offer small grants to our farmers and ranchers in our community.

And the drought program, the drought resilience and water security initiative launched just about two years ago, just over two years ago at this point, as a response to the severe ongoing drought that we were having in California and much of the Western United States, frankly.

And agricultural producers, you know, in our county were at risk of not being able to continue because they lacked water, which is like, you know, it's the lifeblood of the agricultural operation that they're managing.

And so we, our staff came together with other community members and put together this grants program that was able to fund any project on a farm and ranch in Marin County.

They didn't have to have a prior relationship with Malt or have a have a ranch protected by Malt.

It was open countywide.

And we funded things like new water tanks for water storage, new water distribution lines to help efficiently move water across properties.

I think we were involved in a couple new wells, some water catchment systems to catch rainfall off of roofs and store the water, you know, in the drier times for later when it's needed.

And it's been hugely successful. I think in the two years that we've had it going, it's, you know, we've almost granted like close to a million dollars over the whole time throughout the county.

So we're really proud of that small grants program.

We also have another small grants program, Stewardship Assistance Program, which is really just focused on the Malt farmers and ranchers that we have a relationship with.

That we've protected their property, the farm and ranch, and we give them small grants to implement conservation practices on the ranch that promote soil and water quality.

So they can do cross fencing to help with rotational grazing, fence out riparian areas to protect the diverse habitat, or add, you know, add troughs to a property to take some pressure off of livestock grazing near creeks and everything.

So we're just, you know, it's been really impactful for the community and we'll continue to keep expanding on those programs going forward.

It's thrilling to hear about all of the kind of innovation and the sustainability space.

And then also, you have such a wide breadth of programs and services, which ones do farmers and ranchers tend to seem most excited about?

And conversely, which ones do you wish people would show more interest in or that you'd like to get more traction or momentum on?

Yeah, you know, I think the farmers and ranchers in our communities are really excited about our conservation easement program, for one, our main core body of work.

You know, when we protect a new farm or ranch, we end up, you know, purchasing the conservation easement.

So it can be an influx of capital into an operation to help them either continue on to figure out ownership issues so that certain farmers and ranchers can continue farming if other family members don't want to anymore.

And a lot of folks will use it to invest into their operation and maybe diversify their operations so they can be more profitable going forward.

So I think, you know, for our community that's farming and ranching, that's a big one, obviously.

And then the small grants program that we just talked about, you know, that's that next piece to help them.

Like, if we've already protected a property, how can we help them go into the future with, you know, stewardship projects and helping them implement things on the ground is helpful.

And then with that DRAWS program, opening it up countywide and not just having it be available to folks related to Malt, I think that was a big selling point for our community and they got really excited about it.

And, you know, Matt can probably speak to this more, but I think from a communication and outreach perspective, people get really excited about the on-the -ground projects because they can make a real connection to that and they can see the change from before and after.

And then we also, you know, we have an events program where we get people out on farms and ranches from time to time too so we can show them our work and share it with them.

Yeah, Matt, I'd love to hear more about that and the events program.

That sounds very fun. Yeah, I think, you know, to what Zach is saying is definitely, I've recognized in just my year here that our community gets really excited when there is a new ranch protected and that there's, yeah, the impact is felt on the ground.

And I think that it's also in the agricultural community is what is, you know, where they're looking for the most engagement with Malt or where they get the most excited because these easements are, they're voluntary agreements that the landowner is agreeing to and they're encumbering themselves or encumbering their property, the title of that property with certain restrictions, you know, for conservation purposes and that it stays in agricultural production and for that encumbrance they're compensated.

So, you know, part of it is that income helps provide them with the cash flow that they need to, you know, pump into the business or back into the land.

And I think that our, you know, so both the agricultural community and just our community of supporters, they, we always see that as a collective win, not just for that individual rancher or farmer, but for everyone who, you know, loves Marin County and wants to see these places continue to produce food and fiber.

And a quality of life that is, in my opinion, like unparalleled in the West.

And yeah, I think that, you know, my job is relatively easy because this is such an easy thing to market and especially, you know, see this landscape, it's just stunningly beautiful.

So there's so many opportunities for engagement and I think that the, our challenge is really just at getting, at scaling, being able to talk to more people and have more people out on the land and, you know, we only have so much time in the day, so many staff members and the opportunities are limitless, you know, the sky really does feel like the limit.

So, yeah. Lots of opportunity and. That's really cool.

And I can totally see that reflected in the new strategic pillars that you publish just like a week or two before Earth Day, I was especially interested in the one on biodiversity.

Because that isn't something that I would have immediately connected when thinking about land trusts.

For the strategic pillars, just like across the board, I'd love to hear about just kind of how these will help shape your priorities, if there's one that you're really looking to expand efforts in.

Yeah, just anything in that area. Yeah, sure. And I can, I'll start, you know, I can just go over the pillars themselves, you know, we have the first one is preserving agriculture, it's kind of, we've talked a lot about that, it's the core of what MALT's done for 43 years.

And then protecting biodiversity being the next one.

Building climate resilience, the third one, connecting our community, a lot of what Matt was just talking about being the fourth one.

And then internally strengthening our organization so that we can be here to, you know, be an active and useful part of our community.

And I think, you know, personally speaking, I'm very excited about the preserving agriculture pillar, it's like the bread and butter of my work.

But it also, you know, protecting a farm or ranch, it kind of touches all the pillars, like the agricultural properties that we're protecting, being in a rangeland grazing kind of setting that we're in in West Marin.

The properties themselves are so biodiverse, it's often rangeland mixed with wooded habitat and forests and creeks and how that all comes together.

And there's an abundance of plant and wildlife happening on these ranches besides just the livestock that are grazing or the dairies that are dairying or the row crops that are growing.

And so just protecting that biodiversity, as well as the agricultural operation in Marin is, it goes hand in hand, really.

And it was really interesting to read on your site about protecting water sources and really finding ways to help keep them clean and healthy.

It was something just I'd never really thought about much. Matt, anything you wanted to add to this as well about the pillars?

Yeah, no, I think I was just reflecting on what Zach was saying.

And I think that, you know, for an outside audience, when they hear that we work to protect farmland, you tend to like immediately go to a picture of like, you know, a field of corn or your standard ideas of what farmland looks like.

And when, you know, my experience on these ranches is they're incredibly diverse, like it's a, you know, mountainous landscape with pockets of redwood forests and beautiful creek habitat and large pasture areas.

And so every project that we're working on, whether it be a new easement or, you know, a stewardship project, it has such a range of benefits.

And that's what I think is so unique about this work is that our impact is, you know, it's both for the agricultural community and for biodiversity and for the community, and it's good for Malt.

So there's, yeah, it's just this, it's win -win across the board every time we're taking on a new project.

I like your enthusiasm on that.

This sounds like a lot of fun. We've talked about a very wide range of your programs.

Is there anything about Malt or your mission or values or programs that we haven't covered that you would really like to be able to discuss?

I would just say that we have some of the best cheese in the country, and if not the world.

And yeah, if you're interested in farmland preservation and, yeah, want to see a beautiful pocket of the world, come to Marin County.

Our office is in Point Reyes Station, which, yeah, love to have you.

And there's lots to explore. It's a stunning place.

And cheese is a good way to convince people to care about the environment, especially since buying local is getting so important.

I was watching one of your YouTube videos where someone was saying, like, I'm not eating foreign cheddar anymore.

I'll be eating Marin County cheese. I loved that. I thought that was charming.

How about you, Zach? Anything we didn't cover that you'd like to bring up?

No, I think that was great. Matt really, really touched on it there. And I would just have people, you know, visit that website we were talking about.

Reach out to Matt or myself specifically.

If we can answer any more questions, we'd be happy to chat with folks.

Don't have to be in Marin County. We're always happy to share the work we're doing.

Cool. And I liked the map on your website, too, showing where the drought projects are, what tracts of land are part of the trust.

It was really neat.

Like, I learned a lot. I spent a lot of my day on the website. So we have just under a minute and a half left.

As a closing note, like, I'd love to hear about how both of you got into this field.

Like, what called you to it? Kind of what was your career trajectory?

I actually transitioned from the home development world after the recession in 2008 to land preservation.

It was more my calling. The home development stuff I realized I didn't want to be doing.

And I started at a smaller land trust where I grew up in farther northern California in Chico.

And the reason I started there was because I grew up there and I had a connection to place and community.

And so actively working to protect land there, it felt right.

And then I grew to love the work that I was doing and an opportunity came about at Malt, which was the first agricultural land trust in the country, really well respected, really well staffed.

And it just seemed like the natural move to go take that work there. And now I feel like a part of the community here after having been at Malt for just over eight years.

Well, that's wonderful. And Matt, I'm sorry, I didn't save quite enough time for you to answer this.

I want to thank you both, Matt and Zach, for joining us.

I loved learning about Malt. And I just want to encourage anyone to apply for Project Galileo who might fit for it.

Thank you.

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