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Guest Column: A Good Ol’ Barn Raising

Author: Ross Liscum
September, 2016 Issue

She couldn’t imagine any child growing up believing chocolate milk came from a brown cow.

Saralee Kunde’s passion for getting kids involved and understanding the importance of agriculture in our county left its mark on the Sonoma County Fair Foundation, which she formed when she served as president of the Sonoma County Fair Board of Directors in 2012.

In the early Sonoma County Fair Foundation meetings, it was clear Saralee’s vision included adding a building on the fairgrounds property that could be used by 4-H and FFA members and also serve as a venue for the Farm Bureau and other organizations to use to promote agriculture in Sonoma County.

Upon Saralee’s passing in January 2014, a group of her close friends joined forces with the Sonoma County Fair Foundation to make her dream a reality. I feel lucky to have been among this group. We started meeting every other Friday morning for these past two years. A few local businesses were willing and interested in helping us create Saralee’s vision.

Lafranchi Architecture designed an approximately 12,0000-square-foot building with a commercial kitchen that would replace the existing sheep barns. As the meetings continued, a plaza that includes a water feature, engraved pavers and benches was added to the north side of the building. Arches have been sponsored by Redwood Credit Union and an olive grove has been sponsored by Summit State Bank, which both stepped up as major sponsors.

As Tim Tesconi, recently retired Sonoma County Farm Bureau executive director, commented, “Saralee envisioned a spacious facility in the center of the fairgrounds where city folks could connect with farmers, taste locally grown food or watch chicks hatch before their eyes. Her passing has left a huge hole in the community and in our hearts, but her indomitable spirit and enthusiasm have inspired others to carry on, fulfilling her grand vision for the fair and Sonoma County agriculture.”

Saralee had a passion for bringing the farm to the city and she had a way of taking the most diehard urbanite and making them farming’s biggest advocate. She couldn’t imagine any child growing up believing chocolate milk came from a brown cow, and she instilled in all her followers the need to open our farms, vineyards and dairies. Richard and Saralee Kunde were the driving force behind signing vineyards with varietal names and teaching wine enthusiasts about the diversity in appellations.

Their barn will be the cornerstone for year-round agricultural education, whether the lesson learned is by a 4-Her or by a youngster who’s never had the opportunity to experience agriculture first hand. It will bring the FFA Greenhand together with at-risk youth and will teach the frozen food connoisseur how to sauté fresh picked vegetables from a backyard garden.

Our fundraising efforts generated almost $2.6 million to-date, with a goal of slightly more than $3 million in our sights. Major sponsors include American AgCredit, the County of Sonoma, the Ernest and Ruth Finley Foundation, the Exchange Bank, Ovations FanFare LLP, Redwood Credit Union, Richard Kunde, Sonoma Wine Country Weekend, Summit State Bank and Trione Vineyards & Winery. These major sponsors have been joined by more than 90 other local supporters who donated $5,000 to $50,000, plus more than 190 that sponsored an engraved paver in the plaza.

If you believe in agriculture’s importance to Sonoma County, as I do, please consider a donation to the barn’s completion. Agriculture is one of the main economic drivers in this county—it’s what protects our open spaces and keeps our vistas green. Join us in preserving Saralee’s legacy.

Ross Liscum has been a Sonoma County Fair boardmember since 2003 (president in 2010) and a member of the Sonoma County Fair Foundation since its inception in 2013. The Sonoma County Fair Foundation is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, (Tax ID # 45-4827997). Saralee and Richard’s Barn project fund is a dedicated, stand alone account. 

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