Star Route Farms sells to University of San Francisco

08/10/2017

With a legend to its name as the oldest continuously certified organic farm in California, Star Route Farms sold last week to the University of San Francisco for $10.4 million. The university will continue commercial agriculture on the 100-acre Bolinas property, which had been on and off the market since 2013.

Provost Don Heller said the university plans to consult faculty this fall for possible ways to incorporate the farm into curriculum in departments such as urban agriculture, ecology, and hospitality and tourism.

In the interim, Star Route will continue with business as usual, with the same employees and buyers, though the university has hired a new operations manager. Warren Weber, the farm’s owner and operator since 1974, will move out of his leadership role to that of a consultant. He plans to move off the property with his wife, Amy, in the coming weeks.

“We hope young people, entry level farmers, and farmers around the world who struggle with conventional agriculture will learn from the passion and expertise that U.S.F. offers this enterprise,” Mr. Weber said in a press release. “Amy and I are very pleased and honored the University of San Francisco will continue the Star Route Farms legacy.”

Melinda Stone, a Bolinas resident who was instrumental in facilitating communication between the town and the university, said many in the community are eager to see what the university chooses to do on the land. Ms. Stone directs U.S.F.’s urban agriculture program and is an associate professor of environmental studies; she described meetings with many different community stakeholders over the past three years. 

“Many different people came together in Bolinas to talk about how the community could buy it, but it became clear it was too expensive,” she said. “The next step was to figure out how to save it as ag land. From local politicians to farmers, the consensus seemed to be that it should be used for education.” 

Mr. Heller said a number of private donors hoping to preserve the farm’s legacy have come forward with contributions. “We want to move very slowly and be sensitive to the fact that this is a working farm and a small community,” he said. “We want to focus on the farm first, before we have a lot of students and faculty around.”

Mr. Weber started out on five acres using horse-drawn sulky plows and cultivators, but quickly scaled up as the organic movement took off. Today, the farm sells produce at three farmers markets and supplies over 80 restaurants in the Bay Area.

The property, which was originally listed at $12.5 million, features three residences, farm buildings, a pond and riparian rights to Pine Gulch Creek, according to a real estate listing. In 2013, the Light reported that before putting the farm on the market, Mr. Weber sought help from The Trust for Public Land to find a nonprofit or public agency buyer. “The stars did not align,” the organization’s California director, Sam Hodder, said at the time. 

Star Route uses time-honored organic techniques of natural fertilizer and cover-cropping to enrich the soil. Known for staying ahead of the curve, it pioneered the use of precision planters and hydrocooling equipment. It also was visited by Prince Charles and Camilla during their 2005 tour of West Marin’s organic farms.

Mr. Weber, who has served as president of Marin Organic and vice president of the Marin Agricultural Land Trust, did not return calls for comment.