By Derek Wilson
When the Marin Agricultural Land Trust went looking for new leadership, the group cast a wide net in its search for someone with the knowledge and experience of a leader in environmental and social issues. MALT found their selection in the southern Sonoma County farmland.
MALT, a pioneering farmland trust, on Tuesday, March 30, introduced Thane Kreiner, PhD, as its new chief executive officer. Kreiner has spent the better part of the past three decades working with organizations with the focus of innovation and entrepreneurship, while remaining committed to social, climate and racial justice.
A Seattle-area native whose family moved across the country a lot during his youth, Kreiner and his husband settled in 2004 on a farmstead in the Sebastopol area, where they have a beehive colony, make honey and grow their own fruits and vegetables. Kreiner says they appreciate their role as “stewards of the land.”
“What attracted MALT to Thane is his personality, and you can see that in how he manages his life and his garden in Sebastopol,” said MALT’s Director of Advancement Jennifer Maude Carlin, who was part of the search committee. “He has global, national and regional experience from his time at the Miller Center, which align with MALT’s goals. MALT was the first agricultural land trust in the country when it was established. Since then, we have worked with groups across the country that share our passion…. We’re moving from stewardship to regenerative agriculture. The image of Marin is changing from food nourishment to also be a leader in social and racial equity. It’s going to be a fun journey.”
“Thane is passionate about sustainable local food production as well as global efforts to improve health and wellness,” said Neil Rudolph, chair of MALT’s Board of Directors. “The board is confident that Thane’s unique experience will be invaluable in helping MALT achieve our long-term aspirations.”
Among MALT’s ongoing concerns has been “carbon farming,” using protected grasslands to soak up excess carbon from the air, thereby making the local environment more resilient to the effects of climate change.
So, who to call when talking about climate change? How about a trained neuroscientist? Kreiner spent years working with labs developing medicine and in biotech research. Kreiner has spent the past decade as executive director of the Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship at Santa Clara University, one of the world’s leading social enterprise accelerators.
“In many ways, the MALT community is similar to the work at the Miller Center,” Kreiner said. “Farmers and ranchers are committed to producing high-quality food in a way that is good for the environment and people. These are not great investments for large venture businesses. For MALT, it’s more about how we play a role in climate change and increasing the focus on capturing carbon.”
Lisa Poncia, MALT board member and co-owner and operator of Stemple Creek Ranch, said, “Our planet is facing an urgent climate crisis, and there’s a compelling need to identify and implement sustainable agricultural practices that provide nourishing food for everyone, everywhere. Marin County agriculture is leading the way in modeling how local food systems can be part of the solution. We are excited to welcome Thane to our organization and lead MALT to make our vision become a reality.”
Kreiner has spent the past decade as executive director of the Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship at Santa Clara University, one of the world’s leading social enterprise accelerators. Kreiner led strategy and secured funding to accelerate more than 1,000 social enterprises in 100 countries—positively impacting the lives of over 450 million people worldwide with solutions including clean energy, sustainable agriculture, safe water, health and women’s economic empowerment.
“I have been privileged to work with impact investors, social entrepreneurs, researchers and other global innovators who are helping to promote climate resilience, harness genetic advances to improve human health and alleviate poverty among the planet’s poorest people,” Kreiner said. “I look forward to applying the full scope of my experience to build on MALT’s vision.”
Prior to Miller Center, Kreiner spent 17 years starting, building and running life sciences companies, including the pioneering biotech company Affymetrix as well as several new ventures in regenerative medicine, cancer drug discovery and the microbiome.
He serves on the board of Conservation X Labs, which spurs innovative solutions to end human-induced extinction, and recently co-founded the Black Corporate Board Readiness program, designed to accelerate diversity in corporate governance.
“After the last year, we’ve all become increasingly aware of the fragility of the food system in the Bay Area, in California, in the United States and around the world, with the COVID-19 pandemic, wildfires and drought,” Kreiner said. “We’ve also seen the inequities in the food system come to light. I want to play a part in how MALT can be a force to promote sustainability.”
MALT was established as a nonprofit organization created in 1980 by dairy rancher Ellen Straus and environmentalist Phyllis Faber, with a coalition of ranchers, environmentalists and community leaders, with the mission to permanently preserve Marin County farmland and establish Marin County as a thriving agricultural community in a healthy and diverse natural environment. Some of the Bay Area’s most highly acclaimed dairy and meat products and organic crops are produced on farmland protected by MALT, which totals more than 54,000 acres on 86 family farms and ranches.