The following article first appeared in the Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2014 edition of the “OJAI VALLEY NEWS” on page B1. It is reprinted here with their permission.
For Tony Thacher, ranching exhibit is the real deal
The Ojai Valley Museum is continuing its popular exhibit, “Historic Ranching Families of the Ojai Valley,” for an additional two weeks. The groundbreaking exhibit will now be open through Jan. 12, giving visitors a rare look at six of the pioneering ranching families who created the iconic landscape of the Ojai Valley.
This exhibit began, appropriately with a member of one of Ojai’s oldest ranching families, Tony Thacher, who is on the museum board. Like a true farmer, he started with a seed of an idea for the exhibit and grew it carefully. Planted in the rich soil of the Ojai Valley Museum’s resources, it flourished under the curating expertise of Ojai Valley Museum Director Michele Ellis Pracy.
During visits to each ranch, she selected heirloom furnishings, family photographs and historic ranch equipment for the exhibition. In the museum, she designed a space for each family, where these treasures could speak in visual language about the realities of ranch life.
Growing beyond the museum walls, the exhibit branched out into sold-out events at the ranches, involving the community in a celebration of Ojai’s agricultural heritage.
Thacher brought the idea for the events to the museum, and with the individual ranch owners, organized picnics, barbecues, wine tasting, as well as a 100-year anniversary party at the Haley Ranch. Finally, thanks to Thacher’s suggestion and to the pro bono work of local videographer Chris Ritke, there is now a feature-length documentary of interviews with the ranching families playing in the gallery for visitors.
Taking a break before unloading a truck at his ranch, Thacher sat down in the library of the Ojai Valley Musuem and talked about how the exhibit came into being.
With a heritage from a family that defined Ojai’s unique combination of education and ranching, Thacher is well qualified both to speak about the past and the dynamic changes of the present.
Edward Thacher, his great-uncle, came to Ojai in 1887 and worked as a manager for the Topa Topa Ranch. Sherman Day Thacher, his grandfather, followed soon after and eventually founded Thacher School. His wife, Anne, is the daughter of another pioneering Ojai family, and with husband Tony, rebuilt the family citrus business after the disastrous flood of 1969.
Leticia Grimes: How did you get the idea for the exhibit?
Tony Thacher: I think the reason I wanted to have a rancher exhibit was that, as a member of the Chamber of Commerce, I’ve tried to instill in them that it’s not all just about tourism, and that there are really three main industrial engines in this valley, the oldest being agriculture. Tourism was started way back in the 1870s, 1880s, when people came out here for their health; and the other leg of the three-legged stool is education. Those three industries make Ojai what I think it is. So I wanted to emphasize agriculture, coming from an agricultural background, both my wife’s family and my own.
I want people to realize how tough it is to be in this business. It’s a seven-day-a-week job. We do hope it rains someday, so we can take a day off — although what we usually do is fix things indoors when it rains. I wanted to emphasize to the valley the value, the history. It’s not a static thing; it’s changed during my lifetime. This is a multimillion dollar business. If I had to guess, counting the cattle guys, it’s probably in the range of 10 to 15 million. This money comes in from actual manufacturing of something, so the money really does come into the valley.
So in talking with Michele, I said that since ranching is family-based, we have to pick some historic families. She said that we could have only six, maximum, because of the limitations of space. So I thought about that, and gathered some ranchers together, which isn’t easy to do, because they rarely agree on anything except water and citrus prices. We came up with a list of about 40 who’ve been around for more than a generation, then narrowed it down to six: the Clark family, who’ve been here forever countywide; the Haley/Hoffman family, they’re also an old Ventura County family; the Lucking family — sadly, Bill Lucking passed away, but his daughter, Carly Ford, is running that ranch; Bob Davis I grew up with, so it was easy for me to twist his arm; another one that’s near and dear to my heart is Dewayne Boccali; then there’s the Munzig/Anderson family — their ranch is where my grandfather first arrived in 1887.
LG: What are some of the challenges of ranching here?
TT: Farmers are scrambling to figure out what they can grow with the high prices of inputs in Ojai. Land’s ridiculous; we couldn’t possibly expand. The cost of water has accelerated so much that, as a part of your budget, it’s getting desperate. People have adapted. If you watch the video, you can see that Roger Haley has tried a dozen different kinds of domestic livestock to make a living. He also makes saddles. We could grow raspberries, but they need hoop houses like they have in Camarillo and Oxnard, I think people would be very upset. People do understand — we are their viewshed; we are what they see.
LG: Would you say that ranching here is in jeopardy or just passing through another challenge?
TT: You know, farmers are great complainers — it’s not raining, it’s raining too much! There’s a reason for that. We have almost no control over our inputs, like water, and very little control over what we can sell our products for. I worry for my kids and grandkids. When they came back from college, both our daughter and our son wanted to continue the tradition, so we’ll keep fighting. But you do worry about Ojai turning into San Fernando.
After the interview, Thacher returned to his seven-day-a-week job, with no day off in sight yet because of the long dry spell. But despite all the challenges and hardships, he and the six ranching families gathered a rich harvest this fall for the community, opening their histories, their homes and their hearts, giving us nourishment to last a lifetime.
The exhibit has been made possible by a grant received from the Heritage Fund through the Ventura County Community Foundation, as well as general donations and income from the companion special events.
The Ojai Valley Museum, established in 1967, is supported in part by museum members, private donors, business sponsors and underwriters, the Smith-Hobson Foundation, Wood-Claeyssens Foundation, the city of Ojai, Ojai Community Bank, Rotary Club of Ojai and Ojai Civic Association.
The museum is at 130 W. Ojai Ave. Admission is free for current 2013 members; non-member adults are $5, children 6 to 18 are admitted for $1 and children 5 and under are admitted free. Gallery hours are Tuesdays to Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tours are available by appointment. Free parking is available off Blanche Street at the back of the museum.
For more information, call 640-1390, ext. 203, visit www.ojaivalleymuseum.org or e-mail email@example.com. The museum also has a Facebook page.