A Place to Call Home: The Sonoma County Farm Bureau – 104 Years and Six Locations

Written By: Katherine J. Rinehart
Published: September 13, 2021

A piece of Farm Bureau history disappeared last month when its former offices, a modest 4,200 square foot structure located at 970 Piner Road, was razed. The building served as the Bureau’s center of operations for nearly 50 years.

How many meetings, workshops, and celebrations took place within these four walls is not documented, but it was here in the early 1970s that plans were discussed and acted upon that resulted in restrictions on urbanization within growth management areas and protected agricultural land in the county’s first Right-to-Farm ordinance. It was also here in the 1970s that the Sonoma County Farm Trails Association held its earliest meetings. Agricultural education programs such as the Summer Ag Seminar and Ag Days were developed in these offices during the 1980s. The bi-annual Government Executive Institute was launched at 970 Piner Road, as were numerous fundraising events, now time-honored traditions, such as the annual Love of the Land.

John A. Williams, architect, and Loyd W. Olson, designer for Nor-Cal Design Group, drew the plans for 970 and 990 Piner Road, home to the Sonoma County Farm Supply, an affiliate of the Farm Bureau. Codding Construction Company was the contractor. Both buildings were dedicated on August 1, 1969, when Allan Grant, president of the California Farm Bureau, welcomed an”overflow assemblage of members and well-wishers.”

Grant’s address to the gathering included references to challenges facing farmers at the time, specifically the grape boycott, which the Farm Bureau opposed.

Before moving to Piner Road, the Farm Bureau, Cal Farm Insurance, and Sonoma County Farm Supply occupied a structure at 3775 Cleveland Avenue in Santa Rosa. The 60 by 140-foot steel frame, corrugated galvanized metal building with its concrete floor and rustic wood façade was the first building owned by the Farm Bureau.

For the first 28 years of operation, the Farm Bureau conducted business in the offices of the Agricultural Extension Service in the basement of the Sonoma County Courthouse. In 1945 the Bureau moved to the former Luther Burbank Home at 601 Tupper Street and then to a residential duplex at 215 F Street, a few doors down from the Santa Rosa Shoe Manufacturing Company 1947.

Plans to build a home of their own began in 1936 when the Board of Directors set up a building fund. After establishing an insurance company and the Farm Supply Company (formed in 1948 as a cooperative with an independent governing body), a new building accommodating all organizations under one roof became necessary. This was accomplished in 1956.

The building, constructed on the former Indian Creek Lumber Company site on Cleveland Avenue (at the time addressed as 3775 Redwood Highway North), was dedicated on October 27, 1956. It had three offices, an equipment room, and a directors’ meeting room. The Sonoma County Farm Bureau Women, formerly called the Home Department, also used the meeting room and kitchen they equipped with proceeds from a whist party fundraiser. The Sonoma County Farm Supply occupied a warehouse.

The building cost an estimated $35,000, which was raised by selling notes to members at $50 each, with five percent interest.

Previously the Farm Bureau and the insurance offices were located at the F Street property, and the farm supply operated out of a Santa Rosa warehouse at Stewart and 13th Streets. Directors met in the Sebastopol Chamber of Commerce building.

The Cleveland Avenue offices and warehouse worked well for the organization, but after 12 years, a decision to move was made – perhaps due to Kresge Corporation’s interest in the property. In December 1968, Kresge paid the Farm Bureau $209,000 for their nine-tenths of an acre parcel. A K-Mart store later occupied this property.

The Farm Bureau chose the Piner Road site, purchased from Lee Evans, an original investor and member of Codding Enterprises board of directors, because of its utilities, accessibility, and price. Proximity to the Coddingtown Airport and County Administration Center were also factors.

In 2016 the Farm Bureau sold 970 Piner Road and purchased a 1990s light industrial building on Westwind Boulevard in northwest Santa Rosa. Like the Piner Road property, the Westwind office is near an airport, just not the Coddingtown Airport, which ceased operations in the early 1970s.

Although the county administration center is further away now, the Westwind Boulevard headquarters are near several county departments: the Human Services Department, Sonoma County Veterans Service Office, Sonoma County Office of Education, the Sonoma County Water Agency, and Department of Agriculture/Weights and Measures.

There are a total of six spaces at the Westwind Boulevard location. The Farm Bureau occupies one while renting the others. If all goes well, one of those spaces will soon serve as a temporary home to the Sonoma County Archives Collection, which has been under threat from fire and languishing in a warehouse at Los Guilicos for the past 26 years. More on that next month.

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