Landowner Profiles

Read below for profiles in the Who Farms Yolo storytelling campaign that highlight some of the Yolo Land Trust’s easement owners. 

Profiles written by Tiffany Loveridge, Advancement Officer at the Yolo Land Trust

Mark and Karen Harrison

Conserving the Family Farm for Future Generations

When Mark and Karen Harrison moved their family to Mark’s grandmother’s farm outside of Woodland, it was a bigger change in lifestyle than they had imagined. As soon as they moved into the small cinderblock house built in the 1950s, all of the plumbing broke. Pipes burst and the family had to haul water from taps elsewhere on the property.

They had moved from a comfortable house in suburban Woodland, to a simple dwelling in the country with no central heat or air, and temporarily no indoor plumbing. Though their kids went to the same school in town, they now lived a country life. A life full of country chores like stacking wood for the wood-burning stove, and tending to their chickens and goats- new 4-H animals they got when they moved to the farm. Not surprisingly, even though they had only moved a few miles, it felt like a huge change.

They call their property, Harrison Farms, but before that it was known as the Burr Ranch. Lloyd Burr was Mark’s step grandfather. He built the little cinderblock house with the help of his brother-in-law and raised his 5 children on the farm. Mark grew up in Woodland and as a child would visit the farm along with his cousins. Later, he and Karen and their kids would visit his grandmother, Eleta, enjoying weekends exploring the rural property. Shortly after his grandmother passed away, they moved to the farm.

Karen says there were definitely some mixed feelings about the move- it was a big change, but an adventure. Mark and Karen really tried to give their children a connection to the land, told them to look as far as they could and to know that this was their land. Of particular importance was that they didn’t just buy the property for their nuclear family. “One of the beautiful things about it,” Karen says, “is that my husband grew up coming out here as a kid, all of his cousins did, and his whole family is still in the area, the whole extended family, they are all here. And they still come out”. There are even friends of cousins, who Mark and Karen have met only once or twice, who come out to fish in their pond. The friends come out every year to fish and now they know some friends better than the cousins.

“Right away we had a sense that this wasn’t just our space, it was for everybody. It would have been a loss had it gone out of the family”                                                                                                               

-Karen Harrison

Today, their niece’s husband manages their walnut orchards and his family lives just down the road from Mark and Karen. In addition to walnuts, they also grow row crops and have implemented extensive habitat restoration projects. Before they bought the land, the property was farmed margin to margin, but now there is also space for wilderness. Building a pond, and creating a 5-acre habitat corridor really changed how the farm works.

With the help of volunteers from the Boy Scouts and endless hours of their own hard work, they built a v-ditch with tiered levels that allow for water catchment and areas to plant along the sides of the ditch as well as the bottom. Here they planted cottonwood, willows, spice bush, black berries, and toyon. Only a year after planting, they spotted a bobcat sleeping in a forked branch of a big cottonwood. Other visitors to the farm include otters, coyotes, heron, quail, horned owl and once even a juvenile black bear.

With a grant from the NRCS they also improved an oak corridor at the top of the banks of cache creek; where they planted oak trees, red bud, sycamores, quail bush and lots of grasses. The big oaks are where you can find Swainson’s Hawk nests. Almost half of the Harrison Farms property is protected with a conservation easement held by the Yolo Land Trust that is specific for Swainson’s Hawk habitat protection. Conserving the land was very important to Mark and Karen, they do not want to see it developed into housing, and they hope that the land will be in the family forever. In addition to protecting their land, the partnership with the Yolo Land Trust also gave the Harrisons a broader sense of community. The family attends Land Trust events and enjoys feeling like they are a part of a larger group of people who are interested in the stewardship of Yolo County land; a group of people who understands the importance of conserving land for future generations just as they do.


Shane Tucker & Marsha Baird

A New Life in Farming: From San Francisco to Davis to Fulfill a Dream

Ten years ago Shane Tucker and his wife Marsha Baird made a major career and lifestyle change. They moved their young family from San Francisco to Davis and swapped their jobs behind desks to become farmers. The shift from office to farm wasn’t a rash decision as Shane had always known he wanted to farm. Even when he was working one of his first jobs in finance in Manhattan, he would spend one weekend every month farming a 160-acre orange orchard in Florida that he co-owned with a friend. Shane would work all weekend and fall asleep exhausted in the hay barn. He enjoyed the feeling of accomplishment at the end of a hard day’s work.

It’s not hard to understand where Shane got his passion for farming. He grew up in a university town in Mississippi, that he says, was a lot like Davis. His father was a professor and the family lived on a 5-acre farm just outside of town. It was here that Shane and his brother learned to work. They raised sheep and pigs for 4-H and Shane recounts how he and his brother would wake up early before school to exercise their animals, even creating hurdles for the sheep to jump over to improve their muscle tone. In the winter months the sun wouldn’t even be up so they would go out with flashlights to run the sheep over hurdles.

Today, you won’t find any livestock on Shane and Marsha’s land. They opted to plant walnuts, almonds and row crops. Not long after they bought their farm, Shane spoke with the Yolo Land Trust about preserving land near UC Davis Russell Ranch Sustainable Agriculture Facility. Shane says that it just made a lot of sense to put a conservation easement on the 200-acre plot. In conjunction with surrounding plots, more than 6oo acres is preserved for farmland forever.

The proceeds from the conservation easement helped Shane and Marsha to develop their almond orchard. It is on this farm that they have set aside over an acre to grow food for the Yolo Foodbank. Their “Food Bank Farmers” plot was established in 2012 and, with help from local volunteers, everything harvested there is donated to the Yolo Foodbank. Over the years they have grown a number of different crops including carrots, beets, potatoes, butternut squash, melons, and a variety of fruit, and have worked with a diverse group of volunteers including members of local fraternities, Boy Scouts, Rotary clubs, schools, and churches. Yolo Land Trust staff, board members and supporters have volunteered their time over the years as well, helping with tasks from laying new drip irrigation lines to planting potatoes.  

When asked if they are happy with their decision to move to Yolo County and become farmers, Shane and Marsha agree that they are. It hasn’t come without challenges, but Shane says that he really enjoys the problem solving aspect of farming. And even though he may lose sleep worrying about the weather or something else out of his control, he looks forward to a future farming the fertile soils of Yolo County.

If you would like to volunteer with the Food Bank Farmers, email: volunteer@foodbankfarmers.org


Martin Ranch, Winters CA

T.R. and Dorothy Martin- Sixty-three Years of Loving Farming

2015-03-31-09.10.14_YvonneHunter

“Farming gives you a sense of freedom. It’s a peace of mind, just you and nature,” T.R. (Tony) Martin tells me as I sit with him and his wife, Dorothy, in their ranch home just east of Winters. T.R. is explaining to me how at the age of 19, he had the opportunity to run his own farm. At the time, he was a sophomore at UC Davis, studying to become a dentist while working on farms during school breaks to help pay for tuition. In October 1953, Pete Arisetti, who T.R. had worked for previously, was seriously injured and could no longer farm. Mr. Arisetti approached T.R. with an offer – if he quit school, T.R. could run Arisetti’s 30-acre farm. T.R. dropped out of college, married Dorothy the following month, and they have been farming ever since. “We essentially started our married life and farming life at the same time,” T.R. says.

T.R. has deep roots in agriculture. His paternal grandparents raised grapes in the Andalusia region of Spain. When drought and famine hit in the early 1900s, the family made the difficult decision to abandon their ranch. In 1907 they took a steamer ship to Hawaii where they worked for 5 years on a sugarcane plantation, eventually coming to California in 1912 and settling in Winters. The young family worked on farms up and down the state following the fruit.

Dorothy’s family was also in agriculture. Her grandfather came to California in 1922 to raise cotton and, like T.R.’s family, Dorothy’s also worked on farms all over California. As children living in downtown Winters, just a block from one another, Dorothy and T.R. would occasionally work in the nearby orchards picking fruit. T.R. remembers receiving 50 cents for a day’s work. When T.R. was 10, his family moved from their small house behind the post office to a farm just east of town. This is where Tony learned to drive a tractor and “do all the things on the farm that adults do.”

T.R.’s early farm education served him well when at 19, he found himself running his first farm with his new wife by his side. It was hard work, with T.R. working a night job to help support their growing family. Over the years, they have grown many crops, from apricots to almonds to tomatoes, and have run cattle on the hills outside of Winters. Today T.R. and Dorothy grow only walnuts and prunes on their farm on Russell Boulevard east of Winters. Tony tells me “that there isn’t anything on this farm that I didn’t plant.”

The history of their farm goes back to the earliest days of Winters. The land was once home to the co-founder and namesake of the town, Theodore Winters. Mr. Winters had a horse racing stable and racetrack there, and grew tobacco and other field crops over 150 years ago. The Martin Farm still has some of the finest soil in the world. With good quality water and excellent climate, the land remains highly productive. 

Growing up working on farms, both T.R. and Dorothy developed a love for the land. T.R. tells me that his goal when he was younger was to own just 10 acres. Today, he and Dorothy own hundreds. “It took a lifetime to get to where we are today,” Tony says “We feel so blessed- what are the odds of someone starting with nothing?” In order to protect their life’s work, in 2012, the Martins approached the Yolo Land Trust with a simple request. They wanted to protect their farm from any future development. “I cobbled this farm together from five parcels over 25 years,” says T.R., “I don’t want to see it turned into blacktop and cut up into home sites. That’s not the legacy I want to leave.” Working together, the Yolo Land Trust secured public funding through the US Department of Agriculture and the California Department of Conservation to pay for an agricultural conservation easement on the Martin’s farm- protecting over 200 acres as farmland forever.

T.R. and Dorothy worry that the agricultural way of life they have known and loved is disappearing. They speak fondly of having had the pleasure of working in the Santa Clara valley when they were young, saying it was like a Garden of Eden, full of fruit orchards and farms. Their hope is that Yolo County’s farmland will not succumb to the same fate as that of Santa Clara, paved over and developed into homes and shops. They fervently believe that “we have to secure farmland for the future, for our kids.”

The Martins have spent a lifetime farming in Yolo County. Through generations of hard work and perseverance, and a real love of the land, they have helped to build the region’s rural heritage and to feed the world.

photo courtesy of Yvonne Hunter