In agricultural Tomales, glimmers of a baby boom

Teresa Mathew
Parents, babies and young children joined the Tomales Founders' Day parade last Sunday to signal the arrival of a new generation in town, where a baby boom unseen since the '80s may be reaching its peak.   

At the Tomales Founders' Day parade on Sunday, spectators lined Highway 1 to watch fire trucks, farmers and dairy princesses saunter down the street. Perhaps the parade’s most unexpected entrants were its youngest, who were heralded by a wide white banner that read “The Tomales Baby Boom: (Future) Future Farmers of America.”

Since its founding, Tomales has been a town of farmers and ranchers, its grassy hillsides dotted with beef and dairy cattle. But the past few decades have seen a decline in agriculture and an aging of the town’s overall population.  

So is there a baby boom in Tomales? 

When asked, most residents turned to each other and started discussing the babies recently born in the area: Was it four? Or no, seven? But wait, what about those two babies born on the street around the corner? Would that make nine? All agreed, after finally settling on a number somewhere between seven and nine, that for a town of just over 200, the last few years have seen a bumper crop of babies.

Kristen Lawson, owner of Two Silos Mercantile, said it seemed as though the generation of children born in Tomales 30 years ago had grown up and started having children of their own. The last time she saw anything resembling a baby boom was back when her son was born in the ’80s. 

There is little data available on birth rates in Tomales over the years, but residents said it had been at least a few decades since they could remember seeing so many tots in town.  “For a long time, it was really hard for young people to come,” said Anna Erickson, a fifth-generation rancher whose son, Frank, is 5 months old. “More jobs are available now within agriculture: businesses here are diversifying.” 

Still, said Ms. Erickson, who raises organic poultry at Hands Full Farm, “half the homes are weekend rentals—it’s not a young agriculture town anymore. To a small percent it’s changing, but so is the upward trend of retirement homes. I think the baby boom might not catch on any more than it already did.”

Sara Tosconini, who moved from Tomales with her husband and young son, said that some young parents had left the area for financial reasons. Jim Jenson, whose family owns a sheep farm in town, said, “Tomales is not expanding in development anymore, so it’s out of reach for a middle-class family. If you can figure out a way to come back and stay on the family ranch, it’s a great place to live.” Tim Furlong, whose family ranches in the area, said “most of the people [having babies in town] are from Tomales originally. If you’re not born into a ranching family, it’s hard living in Marin.”  

But while housing availability has tightened, job opportunities in agriculture have expanded slightly, and some newcomers have found a way to adapt. 

“Most of the new families I can think of are working for newer, smaller agriculture businesses,” said Brittany Jensen, whose son, Lytton, is 5 months old.

In 2015, the Marin Conservation League wrote, “Where conventional milk and beef production were the foundation of the Marin agricultural economy for many decades, now value-added and specialty products and services augment the base.” As examples of this new tangent to the industry, the league listed cheese-making and pastured poultry. 

Neither Hadley Cameron nor her husband are Tomales natives—she relocated from Vermont—but both make their livelihood through value-added agriculture. They plan to open a creamery in San Francisco in partnership with Toluma Farms. Her first daughter, Una Louise, was born in 2016, and her second, Fare Marin, last year. 

“As far as I know, there weren’t any babies born before Una,” Ms. Cameron said. “There was a lull, then all of a sudden there were four babies born within a month of each other. Now I know of eight born since Una was born two and a half years ago. In a place of 200 people, it’s really funny the population has grown that fast.” 

The baby boom, small as it may appear, has been a comfort to the parents. “A lot of young families support each other, because it can be hard to find childcare out here,” Ms. Cameron said. “We lean on each other.”