Fair Time is Fun Time in Clover Country

Another Sonoma-Marin Fair is in the books, and the Sonoma County Fair is following close behind with the Napa County Fair right on its heels. According to Karen Volbrecht, our special events coordinator, this year at the Sonoma-Marin Fair in Petaluma we emptied 112 3-gallon tubs of vanilla ice cream. This equates to over 11,750 ice cream cones handed out in 5 days. She had high praise for the hard work of her crew, Matt James, Hanna Kubicka and Brianna Ward. Working every day of the fair for 3 hours each day, the trio averaged 784 cones per hour. And this will continue at approximately the same rate for the Santa Rosa fair and the Napa fair. That’s a lot of free ice cream! How long has this generous marketing/community service been going on … and how long can it continue?

Hello. I’m Herm Benedetti, one of the partners of Clover Stornetta.

I’m soon to be 57 years old and have been a part of the company since its inception in 1977. As long as I can remember (and even before that) Clover has been handing out product at the local fairs. But the early Clover booths in the main exhibit halls were much different from the Clover Stornetta ice cream booth you see today.

The PCC  would also contract with various types of entertainment to draw people to the booth. For many of those years they had the great puppeteers, Jack and Jackie Shafton, perform two or three shows a day. I would stand there mesmerized by their marionettes which were hand carved, hand painted and dressed in incredibly detailed costumes. With skilled hands Jack and Jackie would work the wooden figures on the end of their strings making them seem almost lifelike as they sang and danced their way around the stage.

Other years we were treated to Hindra, The Mechanical Man. This was a professional mime who would pretend to be a silent robot on stage. He would make mechanical, robot-like gestures and movements performing two or three shows per day with each show lasting 30 to 60 minutes.  Clover issued a challenge to the public to, “Try as you may, you cannot make him smile.” A prize was offered to the person who could crack the first mechanical grin. Unfortunately, things would occasionally take a turn for the worse when ill-intentioned teenagers found trouble by throwing food or other objects at Hindra or sticking him with pins. Don Heid, our beloved 89 year old retiree who worked for the company for over 55 years, remembers when he and John Markusen, one of our founding partners, would have to stand guard on either side of Hindra to try to protect him.

In the early 70’s Nahmen, The Magician, spent many summers at the Clover booths delighting us with his mystical, magical ways. I’m sure there were other entertainment acts that I’ve missed or forgotten, but by the mid 70’s the entertainment was gone and the Clover booths were strictly for the distribution of ice cream samples to the fair patrons.

On August 1, 1977, we started Clover Stornetta Farms, Inc. In taking on the Stornetta label we also added the Napa County Fair to our ice cream giveaway list. So, while our history with the Napa Fair may not be quite as long, it is no less important.

Fairs have changed and will continue to change over the years. The Sonoma-Marin Fair used to have a night of professional roller derby and a two-day rodeo. And the first night of the Fair was always the Sonoma-Marin Beauty Pageant where they crowned the Maid of Marin County and the Maid of Sonoma County. The winners would go on to compete for the Maid of California title in Sacramento.

The Sonoma County Fair will be adding a third week for the first time ever this year as they celebrate their 75th anniversary. There will be a Museum devoted to the history of Fairs located in the Garden Building. If you should have any memorabilia you would like to share, please contact Jane Endahl at 707-545-4200 ext. 209. Maybe you have a photo or memory of an old Clover booth?

Fairs have been a part of the fabric of our State for over 140 years. They have provided a wide open platform for communities to display their agricultural resources and creative talents, both individually and collectively. Today, when so much of our population is urban, the Fairs take on an even bigger role. Many have forgotten or have never been exposed to our agricultural greatness. Our Fairs help to bring an awareness of that greatness and show the importance of agriculture to everyone.

No one knows what the future will bring for our Fairs or for Clover Stornetta. We have always pledged to support the community that supports us. Giving out free ice cream at the local Fairs has been one way to make that pledge come alive.

Our hope is that the Fairs remain a healthy and vibrant part of our communities and that Clover Stornetta will always be there to support our Fairs and always be able to continue the rich tradition of a free scoop at the Fair.

Here’s lickin’ at you, kid.