Fair exhibit teaches new generation about farm

first_imgVENTURA – This year’s theme for the Ventura County Fair is “old-fashioned fair,” and nothing says old-fashioned like Uncle Leo. In 1956, Somis farmer Leo Vanoni created Uncle Leo’s Barn at the fair as a barnyard attraction where animals are the stars. Vanoni, whose father came from Italy in the 1890s to start farming in the Las Posas Valley, is now 92 and has been married to his wife Rita for 62 years. The two are known for their practical wisdom and the help they have offered for more than 50 years to children and adults just learning about the rural way of life. “I’ve had a quite a number of grownups come in who couldn’t recognize one animal from another,” Vanoni said, recalling a lady who didn’t know what part of a chicken the eggs came from, and another who thought a pygmy goat was a rabbit. Some people were skeptical when he and his wife first started working on the Uncle Leo’s Barn exhibit, but its popularity has endured over the years. “The grandmas and grandpas bring their grandkids,” he said proudly. “It’s been a very exciting thing.” Vanoni gave an example of his common sense around farm animals once when he came upon some 4-H children at the fair who were exhausted after a futile effort to get a stubborn 500-pound sow and her piglets into a horse trailer. “You can’t push a pig,” he told them. He picked up one of the piglets, put it in the trailer – and the sow followed him right in. “The piglet squealed like crazy, and when the sow followed him in, (Vanoni) ran out the other side and the children closed the door behind the sow,” said his son, Charles. Over the years, Uncle Leo’s Barn has maintained its popularity by introducing children to the ways of sows and their piglets, braying donkeys, roosters, turkeys, chickens and their chicks. “If we have for instance a turkey, the children open their eyes and say, `Oh my gosh. Turkeys really do say gobble,”‘ said Laurie Vanoni, Charles’ wife. “It’s our mission to give people a chance to visit a farm, at least for a few minutes.” Rita Vanoni grew up on her family’s walnut farm in Simi Valley and worked up and down the state in packing houses during World War II to support the war effort. She and Leo were married at the end of the war on Aug. 15, 1945, in Simi Valley in Saint Rose of Lima Church. Since they started the barn more than 50 years ago, it’s become a real family affair. “It’s gotten to the point where Uncle Leo’s children and grandchildren have taken over the operation of the exhibit,” Charles Vanoni said. “There are three generations every year working on it.” [email protected] (805) 583-7602160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!last_img