The countryside surrounding the Tresch Dairy is strikingly similar to the way it looked when Swiss immigrants Julio and Maria Nonella — accompanied by their two daughters, Olympia and Rose — bought the ranch property in 1905, paying $20,000 in gold. Aside from a few modern buildings, the gently rolling hills and pastureland appears timeless as it transforms from emerald green in the springtime to golden-amber in the summer.
The ranch has evolved in many ways as it passed through four generations of ownership over the past 118 years, but the family’s commitment to sustainability and environmental stewardship, begun many years ago, has steadfastly remained in place. Significantly, the ranch has grown to many times its original 320 acres, and in 1998 became the second organic dairy west of the Mississippi River.
Not long after the Nonellas bought the property, Robert Tresch, a ranch hand, caught the eye of Olympia Nonella and eventually won her heart. After marrying, the couple took over the ranch where they raised their three sons, Albert, Lawrence and Robert Jr.
Robert Jr. bought the business from his grandmother around 1965, the year his son Joe, the current owner, graduated from Petaluma High School. A hard-working farm kid and dairyman who developed uncanny physical strength at an early age, Joe Tresch played tackle on the Trojans’ dominating 1964 football team, which finished the season with a 9-1 record. He still recalls Coach Don Read cautioning his defensive unit to contain Drake’s speedy halfback Dean Lazzarini, who was instrumental in handing Petaluma its only loss of the season. In 1967, Tresch powered his way to winning the lightweight division (under 175 pounds) championship at the World’s Wrist Wrestling championship at the Veteran’s Memorial Building.
In college, while taking business and forestry classes at SRJC and at Chico State College, Joe was unsure if he wanted to continue his family’s farming legacy, or work for the U.S. Forestry Service. But after graduating in 1970, he realized, as he recently put it, “The rest of the world didn’t look half as good as it did back on the ranch.”
Joe took over control of the ranch after his father’s death in 1978. He recalled working 19 straight years without missing a day of milking. During that period he remembered the many stories his grandmother had told him about ranches she could have bought. Heeding her advice, whenever nearby ranches came up for sale, he bought them, adding to his overall acreage.
One such acquisition came after some heated and contentious wrangling with the city of Santa Rosa over its intention to extend a wastewater plant into an area Tresch was leasing from the University of California. The Tresch family prevailed and the beautiful valley is now the site of Olympia’s Orchard, home to thousands of apple trees, 50 different varieties, planted by Joe’s wife, Kathy. Her certified organic apples are sold directly to the public from a roadside stand near their Walker Road ranch.
In 1976, Joe granted permission to Bulgarian- born artist Christo and his wife, Jeanne-Claude, who were proposing a 24.5-mile work of art consisting of 2,050 panels of woven nylon supported by 21-foot high steel poles placed 62 feet apart, traversing parts of Sonoma and Marin counties and crossing 55 parcels of land. Christo’s beautiful Running Fence graced the Tresch ranch and many others for about two weeks before it was taken down.