Craig McNamara was born in Ann Arbor, Michigan. He is the only son of three children of the former United States Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara (1916–2009) and Margaret Craig McNamara (1915–1981).
McNamara enrolled at Stanford University in 1969. After McNamara left Stanford, he spent several years traveling through Mexico, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and Chile. After working on local farms across South America, including starting a dairy cooperative business on Easter Island, he discovered his passion for sustainable farming. He returned to the United States and enrolled at University of California, Davis and graduated in 1976 with a degree in plant and soil science. After a 3-year apprenticeship with Ton Lum, Craig McNamara founded Sierra Orchards.
McNamara established Sierra Orchards in 1980. Sierra Orchards is located within the limits of Winters, California, a small city in Yolo County, on the border with Solano County. The orchard is approximately 450 acres and produces mostly organic walnuts. Sierra Orchards is recognized for its use of sustainable practices and conservation techniques. McNamara has also been recognized for his outstanding agricultural work and commitment to ensuring a healthy, sustainable food system for California and the nation.
Craig and Julie McNamara are the founders of the FARMS Program, a partnership that started in 1993, joining Sierra Orchards (the operational farming entity of McNamara's family), UC Davis, the California Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom and the Yolo County Resource Conservation District. FARMS is now integrated as a curriculum of the Center for Land-Based Learning.
The SLEWS Program was formed in 2001, after partnering with Audubon California's Landowner Stewardship Program. This effectively doubled the number of students served annually. As a result of this dramatic growth and increased demand, in February 2001 FARMS Leadership, Inc. a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization was formed and moved to new headquarters at The Farm on Putah Creek in Winters, California. In 2004, FARMS Leadership, Inc. was renamed as the Center for Land-Based Learning. The program now reaches nearly 2,000 students annually.
Craig McNamara has served on the State Board of Food and Agriculture since 2002. On February 1, 2011 Governor Jerry Brown appointed Craig McNamara president of the state board. McNamara is working to ensure that the goals of Ag Vision 2030 are met. McNamara is passionate about sharing his knowledge of sustainable agriculture and leadership with the world around him.
McNamara is a graduate of the California Agricultural Leadership Program and a Senior Fellow of the American Leadership Forum.
His professional activities include: board member of American Farmland Trust, Roots of Change Stewardship Council, University of California, Davis Dean’s Advisory Council and Agricultural Sustainability Institute advisory board member, Public Policy Institute of California advisory board, past member of the Foundation Board of Trustees University of California, Merced.
Craig McNamara is married to Julie McNamara. Together with his wife and three children he lives in Winters, California.
Craig McNamara is the recipient of several awards including the Leopold Conservation Award, the California Governor's Environmental and Economic Leadership Award, the UC Davis Award of Distinction and Outstanding Alumnus Award.