It’s May and we see the signs that Sonoma County is emerging from the cold winter and unpredictable spring. Daffodils are everywhere, the hillsides are lush and green and there are 4-H ChickenQue signs dotting corners, fences and storefronts across the county. The 4-H ChickenQue (or “CQ” for this author) is Sonoma County’s slice, or drumstick, of Americana.
In its 58th year, the “CQ” has been in existence slightly longer than I have – with emphasis on slightly. Fond memories from my childhood frame the weeks and days leading up to the “CQ” which were rich with “CQ” duties assigned to all our family members, regardless of 4-H status. Dad, mom and even my adult siblings, somehow contributed to our family’s commitment to this iconic event.
Selling tickets to the “CQ” was always a priority for the Tesconi Family. Dad was a truckdriver for Albers Milling in Santa Rosa, and Mom would load him up with tickets to peddle along his route. He delivered feed to dairy, cattle and horse ranches all over Northern California, so he had a captive market. In addition, all school-age family members reluctantly had to try to off some tickets to their teachers and their classmates’ families.
Probably the sales channel that was the most exasperating for us kids was the neighbors. On a Saturday afternoon we were sent out to ring neighbors’ doorbells along our stretch of country road (of course, we skipped the Muelrath abode since they were in 4-H too!). At the time, the tickets were $2.50 or $3.00, but it seemed expensive to a grammar school student. My two sisters and I would walk down the road a bit, find a shady spot on the side of the road, and “negotiate” over which one of us had to approach one or two of the grouchiest neighbors. It was never a democracy – more like a dictatorship – and the oldest sibling always got her way. It was an easy sell and with very generous neighbors, we had lots of success and sometimes got a tip!
During my youth, I can remember my Dad leaving early on the morning of CQ to go and help get the barbeques going with the other 4-H dads. In those days, Al Grove was the BBQ Czar and under his watch 10,000 chicken halves were cooked to perfection. I think it was Al who came up with the amazing BBQ racks still used today to flip dozens of halves at once. (It is the closest thing to automation used at the CQ which still offers that hands-on feel). Later, John Cornolo stepped up and was at the helm of the CQ for a few decades. It was a highly respected position to hold and it brought with it hours of dedicated effort to make the CQ a stellar fundraiser. As much as some of the BBQ team grumbled about giving up their Sunday to stand around a sizzling grill, I think it was enjoyed by those volunteers. It actually served as an opportunity for 4-H families from across the county to bond with one another and to get to know one another outside of the fair competitions.
Probably its unofficial trademark, the 4-H ChickenQue Cake Sale was and still is the biggest draw to the event. It’s the Monday watercooler conversation topic – what flavor cake(s) did you scoop up, did you see how cool the decorated cakes looked, do you know who made the cake you bought? It makes me smile to think about all those 4-H “moms” who managed the cake booth… Mrs. Mahecek, Dorothy Shire, Betty Grove and more recently Debbie Grove. It got to be that Betty knew what flavor cake was our favorite and she would squirrel away some of the best cakes for us to choose from.
When I was a 4-Her, people had more family time. They had more time to spend the day at the 4-H CQ and enjoy the many activities offered such as egg tosses, sack races and a host of other activities and exhibits. Memories were made and fun was had by all.
In response to people’s busier lifestyles, several years ago the “drive-in” pick-up experience was added to the event, which was a great idea. It’s unfortunate, though, that more community members don’t take the time to attend the CQ and make it a family day. There is so much more to the CQ than a delicious chicken dinner.
This year’s CQ is on Sunday, May 5th and one of Farm Bureau’s biggest supporters, Fred Frey, is Committee Chair. I am sure with his ability to motivate people and his unyielding energy, the 58th CQ will go down as another successful fundraiser for our local 4-H programs.
The 4-H ChickenQue is something that should not be missed…but don’t take my word for it, take the family out for the day and you’ll become a believer. But do take my advice – don’t just drive through and pick up your dinner. Unplug, attend the event, buy your favorite cake, sit across from someone you don’t know at the rickety picnic table and experience a Sonoma County tradition.