FOCUS ON FARMING: The Tracy Family
Last updated 7/17/2023 at 1:52pm | View PDF
The Tracy family has a history in the farming and cattle industry, with their operations going back into the 1800s, beginning with William Tracy. Today, their family-held operations consist of the growing of cotton, wheat, potatoes, tomatoes, carrots, almonds and pistachios. Beef-raising rounds out the operations of the Buttonwillow Land & Cattle Company, a partnership made up of three families: the Freys, Selvedges and Tracys.
Tracy Ranch Inc. is a family-held corporation owned by widespread stockholders, also Freys, Selvidges and Tracys, including sons and daughters.
The family legacy began with Ferdinand Tracy (1829-1908) in the late 1850's in the gold mines near Kernville. However, the family uses the official birthdate of 1862 when Ferdinand and Wellington Canfield formed the partnership Canfield & Tracy, a rangeland cattle operation. Their herds roamed the lower San Joaquin Valley, grazing on wild grass in an untamed dominion ruled by the likes of rattlesnakes, jackrabbits, coyotes and waterfowl, subject to the ruthless whims of the mighty Kern River.
In 1875 Ferdinand married Ellen Baker, the widow of Colonel Thomas Baker (deceased 1872). The marriage yielded two children, "Baby" and "Ferdie," who both died as infants.
In 1898, Ferdinand's nephew, William Tracy, established what would be today's headquarters, the historical park on Wildwood Road, 5 miles northeast of Buttonwillow. This era was marked by the raising of Belgian draft horses and later ostriches. His marriage in 1904 to the daughter of another pioneer family, Fannie C. Rowlee, would yield six children, one of which succumbed to scarlet fever at age 8.
With the death of William Tracy on July 4, 1941, his widow, Fannie Tracy, rallied her widespread children and their spouses back to the ranch. The result was a turning point that saved a ranch ravaged by bad luck of the '20s and the Great Depression of the '30s. Fueled by the talents and resources of the Freys, Selvidges and Tracys, and made urgent by World War II, the ranch was transformed from an equine focus into mechanized farming.
Today, in the 5th generation, diversity is their strength, the achievement of their unity and of all hearts in one place-the ranch.
Reaching its 140th year in 2002, the Tracy Ranch is joined today by only a handful of other surviving Kern County operations with roots going back to early California. They share one common beginning – rangeland cattle. The family operations even involved a flock of ostriches. In 1906, a female and male ostrich was shipped to the ranch for the purpose of gathering their plumages. By 1910, the flock was grown to 174 birds. A Tracy-owned company, Tracy Studio Design in Bakersfield, was making robes, boas, pom-poms, fans and many other items. The birds eventually were shipped off; some were sold, others were donated to Hart Memorial Park.
Today, the company is run by generations of farmers from the three families. Michael Frey said, "We are a large family, but it takes each person to focus on a certain department of the operation. Currently, their biggest crops are almonds and pistachios. But, the family has also branched out into real estate, with ownership of a few office buildings in Bakersfield, as well as an oceanside hotel in Pismo Beach.
The one biggest challenge is the water. "With the federal regulations governing water and air quality, it is challenging. If we weren't already in farming, that would be a real barrier for entry."