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Guest Column: Let's Get Saralee and Richard's Barn Built

Author: Ross Liscum
August, 2015 Issue

It was Saralee’s dream to build a pavilion at the fairgrounds that would be a year-round center for local agricultural education.

Since 1936, generations of Sonoma County citizens have experienced our treasured county fair. They’ve met friends and family for an afternoon or evening outing, have gone on a date, joined coworkers at the horse races, hung out on the midway or visited the livestock area to see kids exhibit the animals they’d raised. As an agricultural county with deep roots in the land (no pun intended) for almost 80 years, it’s always a treat to see the excitement buzzing around the various barns stocked full of animals, all ready to be judged—and then let the bragging rights begin.
One such 4-H member was the late Saralee McClelland, who showed her prized dairy cattle as a young girl in the 1950s and 1960s. She became an employee of the fair and, later, a member of its board. Saralee and her husband, Richard Kunde, are now recognized as the first couple of Sonoma County agriculture, who’ve done more to promote farming, fairs and farm youth than anyone else in the last half-century. Their energy and resources have helped shape Sonoma County as this state’s premium wine and food region.
Saralee had a passion for bringing the farm to the city. She couldn’t imagine any child growing up believing that chocolate milk came from a brown cow and rallied her followers to open up their farms, vineyards and dairies to the disbelievers. Did you know that, in 1960, a farmer could feed 26 people on average, while today that same farmer feeds 155 people? We have just 2 percent of our population working in agriculture, compared to 90 percent back in 1790. And in the United States, there are 3,000 acres of productive farmland lost to development each day. In Sonoma County, 65 percent of the farm gate revenue comes from wine grapes, while these grapes are grown on just 6 percent of the 1 million acres in the county. Given our urbanization of the county’s nine city areas, most of our citizens don’t realize the importance of agriculture for our health, wealth and open spaces.
It was Saralee’s dream to build a pavilion at the fairgrounds that would be a year-round center for local agricultural education. She was fully supported in this dream by Richard.
The Sonoma County Fair Foundation, with Saralee’s leadership, started discussing building an Agricultural Education Barn in 2013. With Saralee’s passing in January 2014, the foundation, along with a group of Saralee and Richard’s close supporters, formed the Saralee Barn Committee and proceeded forward with a conceptual plan, which was reviewed and approved by the Sonoma County Fair Board. The current members of the foundation are President Pat Emery, Treasurer Ross Liscum, Jack DeMeo, Marilyn Herzog, Terry Lindley, and Les Perry.
With local professionals, including BKF Engineers, Lafranchi Architecture and Wright Construction, plans were prepared for the 11,000-square-foot building, the design of the plaza, a fountain incorporating the dairy and vineyard influence of Saralee and Richard, a demonstration vineyard, a courtyard with benches for seating, donor bricks and a donor recognition wall. This building will be constructed at the existing sheep barn area.
The fund-raising efforts were kicked off in September 2014, with early and strong support from American Ag Credit; Richard Kunde; Abbey, Weitzenberg, Warren & Emery; the county of Sonoma; Exchange Bank; the Finley Foundation; Jackson Family Wines; Meade Clark Lumber; and Ovations Fanfare LP, who’ve all donated from $25,000 to more than $150,000. Many others have donated in the $5,000 to $25,000 range. For a donation of $500 or more, you can have a brick paver engraved with your own personal message.
Although the design of the barn and surrounding plaza will be a major enhancement to the fairgrounds, it’s important that this tribute to Saralee produces something more than a physical structure. In an increasing urban culture, educating our youth about the importance of our agricultural industry and how it brings fresh food to their table daily is more important than ever. For this reason, we’ve begun developing proposals for the “Ag Education Center,” which will operate out of the building year-round and will promote better understanding of our rich heritage. There will also be a demonstration kitchen that’s being sponsored by Ovations Fanfare LP, which will be incorporated in various agricultural events in the building during the calendar year.
The projected cost to complete the project is $1.9 million. As of July 1, we’ve either raised or have received pledges in the amount of $1.54 million. The goal is to break ground on the last day of our fair this August, and we look forward to the possibility of having a ribbon cutting ceremony of the new Saralee and Richard’s Barn at the 2016 Sonoma County Fair.
Pledges to the Sonoma County Fair Foundation’s Saralee and Richard’s Barn Campaign may be made in one payment or scheduled in payments from one to five years. I encourage you to find out more about how you can become involved with this project at
Ross Liscum has been a Sonoma County Fair Board member 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 501c3 nonprofit organization, Tax ID # 45-4827997. Saralee and Richard’s Barn project fund is a dedicated, stand alone account.


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