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Life & Work with Vivien Straus

Today we’d like to introduce you to Vivien Straus.

Hi Vivien, we’re thrilled to have a chance to learn your story today. So, before we get into specifics, maybe you can briefly walk us through how you got to where you are today?
As someone who grew up on a small dairy farm in Northern California, I know the struggles of farmers. I created the Cheese Trail project to help cheesemakers promote their products and as a side benefit, to help small farms survive. The nonprofit project started as a map of cheesemakers in two counties in northern California. Once people realized they could use the map to go on driving tours of cheesemakers and take farm tours as well, it took off. The rest of the cheesemakers in California then also wanted to be included. So, the project now includes all California cheesemakers.

Would you say it’s been a smooth road, and if not what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced along the way?
Honestly, it’s been easy. People love cheese. Nonprofits, agricultural and tourism groups, who knew I was from a family that has a history of helping small farms, trusted that I was solely in it to benefit the cheesemakers and have been helping financially from the beginning. Most importantly, the project has been hugely successful in helping the cheesemakers build up farm tours and sales.

As you know, we’re big fans of you and your work. For our readers who might not be as familiar what can you tell them about what you do?
My parents fled the Nazis in Europe, so as a first-generation American, I was taught from an early age that injustice must be fought against and activism was encouraged. I grew up in a rural area on a dairy. In 1980, my mother co-founded the first agricultural land trust in the U.S., Marin Agricultural Land Trust, protecting farmland in perpetuity. In 1993, my brother started the first certified organic dairy and creamery west of the Mississippi called Straus Family Creamery, and I helped build the company. I did it all from my Los Angeles home, which I’d moved to while pursuing an acting career. I did small parts in movies, TV and a lot of theatre, both in LA, NY and SF. Since then, I’ve moved back to northern California to manage our farm while still writing and performing. Today, I combine both my lives, performing one-woman shows that combine comedy and farming. The Cheese Trail project is my effort to give something back.

Have you learned any interesting or important lessons due to the Covid-19 Crisis?
That cheesemakers are creative and are amazing pivoters! 🙂

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Image Credits

Rebecca Gosselin Denise Rocco-Zilber Kelly J. Owen Naomi Fiss

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