Tish Ward, pioneer in sustainable agriculture
By Julie Atwood, Atwood Ranches
Tish Ward passed away in the early morning of Jan. 2, in her home atop the Mayacamas. She was 71, and succumbed to the ravages of early-onset Alzheimer’s.
There is not enough space or time to list all that Tish accomplished in her life.
She came to Sonoma Valley in 1981, and fulfilled lifelong dreams of living with nature and being a farmer. She was the ranch and vineyard manager for the Atwood Ranches from 1984 until her retirement in 2016. In doing so, she became a model – and conscience – for every one of us. Tish’s passion for wildlife, dogs, cats, kids – and grapevines – set the stage for what was to become our own organization’s commitment to truly sustainable agriculture. She was an early disciple of Rich Thomas. She served tirelessly on several boards, including Sonoma Valley Vintners & Growers Alliance (SVVGA) and the Southern Sonoma County Resource Conservation District, worked as a Circuit Rider, was a fervent member of the original SVVGA Tactical Advisory Committee. She was a huge supporter of early farm worker housing and nutrition programs and was on the SVVGA Ag Worker Children’s Scholarship Committee for years. She participated in skits and dressed up as both Sgt. Pepper and Peggy Lee for some of the very first Harvest Wine Auctions.
She loved grape growing and was a huge advocate for Sonoma Valley wine, even though she drank only Merlot, on the rocks, cut with milk. An Auntie Tish Cocktail way ahead of the curve...
Tish was deeply and emotionally involved with our farming and environmental communities. She created and supported conservation education programs throughout the county that engaged schools and property owners, overseeing countless creek cleanups, bird box installations, bee-friendly and fish-friendly farming initiatives, all long before they were “Standard Operating Procedure” for Sonoma County farmers and ranchers.
She was the instigator behind the SVGGA “Good Neighbor” workbook and she was the ultimate good neighbor: visiting schools, talking at contentious Town Hall and PTA meetings, and hanging out at dog parks to explain what was really taking place at night by guys in white spacesuits. In 2013, Tish was deeply moved to be the recipient of the Sonoma County Farm Bureau Luther Burbank Award for Conservation.
She badgered most of us to do better and be better, and kinder. And she kept many taco trucks in business long before they became chic.
Her beloved “One Pond” truck was an icon seen all over Sonoma and Marin, (and could not be missed because she always took up two parking spaces) and a constant reminder that water is our common denominator and if we didn’t start working TOGETHER to conserve it, we’d all be in big trouble. She was ahead of her time, while living life in a Thoreau-esque way.
Her mountain aerie was her Walden, and her pets and all the wild creatures were her family.
She was determined to live out her life on the mountain, and she did – riding out the Nuns Fire and living for several months without any utilities, with her dog Coven (the last of a long string of devoted canine companions).
She was truly one of a kind, a self-styled “mountain woman” while being a modern pathfinder, mentor to young girls and women, and community leader.
A gathering to celebrate Tish’s life and contributions, swap stories, and feed the birds will take place this spring.
In her memory, donations may be made to Canine Companions for Independence, Hospice by the Bay, Wildlife Rescue, Songbird Rescue, and the Mayacamas Volunteer Fire Department.