Ryan Ranch: 130 Years of Farming for Future Generations
Article and photo by Rachel LaFranchi
Published January 1, 2017
|From left to right: Walt, Joan and Andrew Ryan, Kelly and Dan Barnett with their children Calvin and Lillian.|
The Ryan Ranch, between Bodega and Occidental, is nearing its 130-year anniversary. Founded in 1887 by Andrew Fitzpatrick, the ranch was purchased to harvest lumber and raise dairy cattle. Fitzpatrick immigrated from Ireland in the late 1800’s and worked in San Francisco before moving to Sonoma County where he owned multiple ranches in the western part of the county.
The Ranch has been in the Ryan/Fitzpatrick family for over a century and is the last of the Fitzpatrick properties still owned by the family. Just as the weather changes, the ranch has changed family names (Fitzpatrick/Gleason/Ryan) and ranch business types to remain sustainable. For six generations, going on seven, the family has worked together to maintain and care for the land.
In the 1950’s, Adele Gleason Ryan and Walt Ryan Sr. raised sheep, grass fed beef, hay and harvested lumber. In the 1970’s, Walt Ryan Jr. and his sister Pat Ryan expanded the beef operation. In the late ‘70s, it was a surprise and a joy when Walt Disney came to the ranch to film a movie. Walt Jr. and Joan Perry Ryan have worked the ranch together since the 1970’s. Walt also worked for multiple public water agencies and Joan works as a Registered Nurse. Joan supported agriculture as a member of the Sonoma County Fair Board, ranch round ups and keeping the family organized. She has a deep love of the land since her side of the family also came from California pioneer ranching roots. In the late 90’s, Pat Ryan started selling grass fed beef before it became a modern-day popular food trend.
Recently, Andrew Fitzpatrick Ryan and his sister Kelly Ryan Barnett moved back to Sonoma County to live on the family’s ranch and continue the family legacy. They are the sixth generation to farm and ranch the same piece of land. They grew up working alongside their father Walt, mother Joan, Grandmother Adele and Aunt Pat. In high school Andrew and Kelly raised market steers and market lambs and showed them at the Sonoma County Fair.
While attending and graduating from University Nebraska-Lincoln, Kelly met her husband Dan Barnett. Dan worked on cattle ranches in Colorado, Nebraska and Kansas before marrying Kelly and moving to California to work the ranch. The couple have two children, Calvin, six years old, and Lillian, two and a half years old, who compose the seventh generation of the family to live on the ranch. Today Kelly and Dan own and operate the herd of commercial cattle, primarily Angus and Hereford crosses. In addition to this, they have a handful of American Quarter Horses trained as premium all around ranch horses.
After graduating from Chico State, Andrew moved to the East Bay to work a myriad of marketing and sales positions for Aidells Sausage Company for six years. While he worked there, the company was bought out by Hillshire Brands which was then bought by Tyson. At the end of 2015, Andrew was offered a position with Ammunition Wines of Sonoma and moved back to Sonoma County in January 2016. He moved to Santa Rosa but quickly realized there was always work to be done on the ranch and moved back in April. He knew it was important to be involved in the community and joined the Sonoma-Marin Young Farmers and Ranchers. Andrew was recently elected chair of the committee and is looking forward to amplifying the voice of agriculture.
“It’s important to be involved. Don’t just talk about ag, learn about ag and get involved,” said Andrew. “Agriculture in Sonoma County not only feeds those around us, but also feeds the world. Those in ag have to take care of the land.”
The Ryans and Barnetts value the importance of caring for the land and working to keep it in the family for future generations. “We are blessed to be good stewards of the land,” Andrew said, “the ranch is the educational program that teaches you the importance of life, nature and people. That’s the key and the greatness of agriculture.”
Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the author and Sonoma County Farm Bureau when reprinting this item.