This page tells the story of a major farm which served as a reliable source, a farm once larger in size than Manhattan Island. It covered more than 25,000 contiguous acres in the western portion of California's San Joaquin Valley, one of the world's most productive growing regions.
Its hard to imagine that over a century ago, when three brothers first assembled this fertile property, the land was a parched, barren desert. These three brothers were Simon, Lazare, and Alexandre Lazard. They had sailed from their native France in 1848 to seek their fortunes in the United States. Responding to the news of the Gold Rush, they journeyed to San Francisco where they opened a bank and a dry goods store (the White House Department Store, a San Francisco landmark). Later they opened banks in London, Paris, and New York which still bear the name Lazard Freres.
Believing profoundly in the value of land, the brothers had, by the end of the 19th century, acquired 800,000 acres of land in California and the Oregon Territory. As the years passed, one sizable block of the original property, near the western edge of the San Joaquin Valley alongside the Coastal Mountain Range, was kept in the family - the property that was to become Blackwell Land Company.
Minerals were found on the site early in this century, and the oil was discovered during World War I. Later the largest agricultural gypsum deposit in the state was unearthed. Most of the land, however, remained as it had always been - dust, rock, and tumbleweed. What began the transformation, in 1966, was an extraordinary human achievement, the California Aqueduct. This made agriculture now feasible and a public water district was formed (Berrenda Mesa Water District
In 1968, the owners - in conjunction with the University of California - directed the planting of a 70-acre test plot to include every feasible variety of tree or vine which bears fruit or nuts as a permanent crop. The results of the tests and a market study led the ranch management to select three permanent crops - almonds, pistachios, and varietal wine grapes. Then they began one of the largest and most successful plantings of these crops in California and the US.
During the 90s, Blackwell joined in developing water banking projects in Kern County. As grapes became commoditized and water contract supply became more unreliable, Blackwell started to shift from permanent crops to row crops. Processor onions, carrots, parsley, and lettuce were all grown. By 2008 the permanent crops were all removed or sold to neighbors and the company narrowed its row crop program to exclusively carrots. A total of 1,000 to 1,800 acres of carrots were grown each year until 2013, under contract with Bolthouse Farms
The Court decision in 2007 to protect Delta Smelt was one of many water grabs under the moniker of “environmentalism” that destroyed the reliability of the State Water Project built in 1968. Blackwell, after making a go of it and receiving ever smaller water allocations (average supply 2008-2013 51%), grew its last crop. Blackwell sold its water contracts to neighbors, to help them survive, and shifted its focus onto other attributes of their remaining properties, namely grazing, solar and wind energy, highway development, and oil and gas exploration.
The decision on farming was fortunate for Blackwell as the allocations in the next two years were at record lows of 5% and 20% in 2014 and 2015 respectively. Further evidence of a broken system is the 2016 allocation of 60% despite an above average winter in the Northern watersheds that feed the State Water Project. The allocation remains low as a direct result of the daily curtailment of pumping from the Delta to the San Luis Reservoir, not from a shortage of water.
Blackwell looks forward to providing Kern County with energy both traditional fossil fuels and renewable such as solar and wind.