The Cotati City Council voted 5-0 Tuesday evening to select Farmster, a local startup that promotes sustainable farming, as the new operator of the city owned E. School Street, Veronda-Falletti Ranch, an entity that has played a large role in Cotati’s agricultural history and is now an open space preserve.
Farmster, started in 2016 by four Sonoma State University graduates with a passion for sustainability, aims to make people more aware of where their food comes from as well as how food can be grown more sustainably. The unique group of planning, environmental science and anthropology majors also hope to start a five-acre community farm or any space that can encourage local community farming.
As the new head operators for the historic Veronda-Falletti Farm, the inventive group of graduates will now finally get a chance to pursue their goal.
In conjunction with Farmster, the proposed livestock operator for the parcel of land will be Nancy Prebilich, a Sonoma County rancher who raises pastured chicken, turkey, beef, pork and lamb.
The city requested use proposals for the ranch last Summer and received project proposals from both Farmster and Split Rail Ranch, however, Split Rail withdrew their proposal prior to Cotati’s public workshop on the future of the ranch.
Despite Farmster being the only option, Cotati Mayor Mark Landman said he is happy to be partnering with this unique and sustainable thinking startup.
“Farmster seems to be on the same track as us,” Landman said. “We seem to share the same value of preservation, so I am in support of this.”
City staff held meetings with the startup as well as a public workshop meeting in order to gain a better understanding of the company’s project proposal for the ranch and hash out the details of the up and coming project.
Farmster’s plans for the historic site include creating a spot for grazing livestock, increasing the soil level for the growth of organic fruit and nut trees and placing an emphasis on agricultural education with the potential for creating a museum or a guided tour for helping people better understand the importance of the flora and fauna on site.
According to the agenda item report, the proposed site program and license agreement stipulates the “Initial term of agreement is three years, with three subsequent five-year removals. The intent is to ensure that the relationship works for both the city and Farmster,” and “during the initial three-year term, it is recommended that the city council assign one member to the staff working group to partner with Farmster during this startup phase.” Both entities would produce annual reports on the project’s progress, however, the end goal for the program would be for Farmster to be able to stand alone as a non-profit overseeing the ranch.
Also part of the agreement is a plan for the city to make $500,000 worth of improvements to the ranch’s water tower and farmhouse and those updates would occur as city funds became available.
Cotati resident Laurie Alderman voiced concerns that the city budget could be put towards more important projects with more dire needs such as fixing and updating city roads, however, City Manager Damien O’Bid pointed out in his report that the city would not be responsible for maintaining the project.
Despite hearing another public comment on opposition towards the project, Farmster Director Dustin DeMatteo said he is very excited about this project for the ranch and wants to be able to give Cotati residents a place where they can slow down from their hectic lives and appreciate nature.
“We are ecstatic about this and that is an understatement… We want to slow folks down and get them involved and get them engaged,” DeMatteo said.
Cotati Vice Mayor John Dell’Osso emphasized that with this project, it is important to think about preserving the historical integrity of the buildings and preserving the open space that has also often been used to graze sheep. The 4.37-acre parcel of green pasture started out as a simple chicken farm when Pete and Elizabeth Veronda purchased the farm from the Falletti family in 1938 and was later purchased by the city in 2008.
DeMatteo assured council members that preserving the land and integrity of the old buildings is a facet that is important to Farmster and that they would eventually like replace the aging foundation of the old barn on site.
Council Member Wendy Skillman was selected to serve as the adviser for the project. Skillman said she was excited for the project and believes the plan for Veronda-Falletti Ranch as a site of agricultural education and community engagement will be something for all to enjoy.