POST Keeps Coastside Agricultural Legacy Alive with Protection of 903.5-acre Butano Farms in Pescadero
Scenic and Historic Grazing, Farmland to be Saved Forever Thanks to Decision by Family Heirs to Sell Property to POST for Conservation
December 20, 2012
(Palo Alto, Calif.) –Peninsula Open Space Trust (POST) is saving 903.5 acres in Pescadero that include critical row-crop and grazing land as part of its expanding farmland protection program. POST purchased the land, known as Butano Farms, for $9.966 million on December 12 from members of the Dias family who inherited the property from their uncle, the late Pescadero farmer Noel Dias.
“We feel privileged that the Dias family, which has owned this land since the late 1800s, chose to work with POST to make sure the property remains in agriculture and is protected from subdivision and development forever,” said POST President Walter T. Moore. “We’re saving not only at-risk farmland but also vital wildlife habitat, watershed land, world-class recreation potential, and the rural agricultural character of historic Pescadero. It’s a huge win for regional land conservation.”
Highly visible from downtown Pescadero, Butano Farms frames the southern end of town. It connects thousands of acres of already protected lands and is adjacent to California State Parks Pescadero Marsh Natural Preserve and POST’s Cloverdale Coastal Ranches. Its convenient and scenic location close to town and the coast made it an especially attractive property for private luxury estate development. Without POST protection, it could have been subdivided with up to eight or ten luxury estate homes built on the land.
“Because of its large expanse of hillsides for cattle grazing, its well-cared-for farm fields, and its location in the heart of Pescadero, Butano Farms is an essential property to protect through POST’s farmland protection program,” said Moore. “Preserving Butano Farms has been a long-desired outcome for more than 20 years at POST. This property is critical to maintaining local food production. Now this and other conservation goals can finally be realized here, as POST continues its decades-long protection of local agriculture in our region.”
Preserving a Family’s Legacy on the Land
Born in Pescadero in 1913, farmer Noel Dias spent his entire life at Butano Farms. His father, John Dias, Sr., was a native of the Azores Islands who moved to the United States in 1885 at the age of nine. John, Sr. grew flax, hay, peas, fava beans and pumpkins on the land. In 1945, he established the John Dias & Sons Straw Flower Company, which became one of the largest straw flower producers in the world. The company remained in business for the next 45 years, employing many Pescadero residents to pick, dry and sort decorative straw flower arrangements for shipping worldwide.
Noel and his brother, John, Jr., inherited Butano Farms in 1979. Seven years later, when John, Jr. died, Noel became sole owner, actively farming the land until 2005. The following year, he was named San Mateo County Farmer of the Year. He died in 2010 at the age of 96. With no children of his own, he left the property to his nephew and nieces, who made the ultimate decision to sell the land to POST for permanent protection.
“You’d be amazed at the views up there. They’re incredible,” said Noel’s nephew Bill, who as a teenager spent summers working on the farm. “We’d come over from Los Altos, where we lived, and help out with the flower business. Other times we’d go hunting or fishing. Town was a lot different back then. Few people knew where Pescadero was. Today, people come to Pescadero from all over the Bay Area and beyond to enjoy the shops, good places to eat and a great country atmosphere,” he said.
Saving Local Farmland
Butano Farms includes 53 acres of agricultural soils evenly split between two fields: one in the southeast corner of the property off Cloverdale Road, and one along Pescadero Creek Road once used by the Dias family to grow flowers and now planted with a cover crop. Another 500 acres of northern uplands and rolling hills near Bean Hollow Road are leased for cattle grazing. There are no residential structures.
According to POST Vice President for Land Stewardship Paul Ringgold, under POST ownership Butano Farms will be integrated into the nonprofit land trust’s adjacent Cloverdale Coastal Ranches property. This will expand Cloverdale from its current acreage of about 5,800 acres to approximately 6,700 acres. POST will continue to lease the Pescadero Creek Road field to the current tenant and plans to start leasing the Cloverdale Road field in January 2013.
Through its farmland protection efforts, POST is working to preserve the area’s agricultural legacy and access to locally grown food. “Farmland along the San Mateo Coast continues to face development threats and suffers from disappearing agricultural infrastructure and lack of affordable land for farmers,” explained Ringgold. “Long term, POST intends to hold onto Butano Farms until a permanent conservation solution can be identified. This might include transfer to a public agency or sale to a private conservation buyer such as a farmer. POST would hold back an easement to ensure that farm fields and natural resources on the land are protected forever.”
Priority Wildlife Habitat and Watershed Land
Butano Farms is especially rich in natural resources, including 1.6 miles of Butano Creek that provide habitat for the federally threatened steelhead trout. A 140-acre willow patch along the creek—where people have been known to get lost as if in a maze—bisects the property. The willow patch is one of the largest intact riparian habitats on the San Mateo Coast and is listed by The Nature Conservancy as an Estuary/Freshwater Marsh priority habitat. Three ponds on the land serve as likely habitat for the federally threatened California red-legged frog and federally endangered San Francisco garter snake.
POST has a long track record of land protection and restoration in the immediate area. In the mid-1980s, POST worked with Noel, his brother, and the California Coastal Conservancy to implement the Pescadero Marsh Watershed Enhancement Plan. The 5-year restoration effort reopened parts of the marsh to tidal action, repaired dikes on Pescadero Creek, and reduced silt and erosion from channels leading to the marsh.
A total of 547 acres of Butano Farms falls within the San Mateo County Scenic Corridor. Although it contains no county planned trails, the property has potential to provide recreational access someday between POST’s Cloverdale property, Pescadero Marsh Natural Preserve and downtown Pescadero.
Community Support for Sustainable Landscapes
POST’s purchase of Butano Farms helps meet the goals of the Living Landscape Initiative (livinglandscapeinitiative.org), a collaboration created in 2011 by POST and four other conservation groups in and around Silicon Valley: Land Trust of Santa Cruz County, The Nature Conservancy, Save the Redwoods League and Sempervirens Fund. The Initiative seeks to enhance our region by promoting clean air and water, local farming and working lands, biodiversity and habitat protection for wildlife, and enjoyment of natural lands.
According to Moore, POST was fortunate to be able to provide interim funding for Butano Farms but still needs public and private support. “To be effective, POST cultivates long-term relationships with landowners and must always be at the ready with sufficient funds in hand. Generous support from our donors, the community, foundations and public agencies allows us to take action quickly when opportunities arise to protect extraordinary landscapes like Butano Farms,” he said.
POST is a leading private, nonprofit land trust that protects and cares for open space, farms and parkland in and around Silicon Valley. Since its founding in 1977, POST has been responsible for saving more than 70,000 acres as permanently protected land in San Mateo, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties. On the Web at www.openspacetrust.org.
Phone: (650) 854-7696 x341
Email: mmellon [at] openspacetrust [dot] org