The grange is the new community center

Grange Master Lawrence Jaffe outside the Sebastopol Grange Hall in October 2012.

In Sebastopol, a new generation embraces the ideals of a historic agricultural fraternity

Three years ago Santa Rosa attorney Lawrence Jaffe decided he needed to do something about the graffiti on the side of the long-neglected Sebastopol Grange Hall. So he became the Grange Master.

Want to join a Grange in your area? All granges are open to anyone interested in the ideals of the Grange. An application and membership “oath” is required, along with nominal membership fees.Other granges actively looking toward the future include Grange #851 in Petaluma, which meets at the Baker Creek Seed store; The Sonoma Grange, which is is working on a new commercial kitchen to support the local community and the Hessel Grange in Sebastopol, which sponsors everything from grower exchanges to yoga classes.You can find out more about California Granges, including historic granges in Rincon Valley and Bennett Valley, and a list of other local granges in Sonoma, Lake, Marin and Mendocino counties at californiagrange.org.

That’s a bit of a simplification, but Jaffe nonetheless likes to show people around the outside of the squat 1948 hall along Highway 12 that’s recently been painted a tasteful sage green.

“See, it looks good, right?” he asks, giving an impromptu tour of the exterior, pointing out the dusty, burnt scrub around the building he plans to plant with vegetables in the spring. Meanwhile, young farmers haul in bags of local rice, wheat and produce inside to sell to co-op members the following day.

It’s quite a change from three years ago when Grange Hall #306 had only five members and was beginning to crumble to dust. Since becoming Grange Master, Jaffe’s helped raise that number to 120 with young homesteaders, DIY producers, greenhorn farmers and political foodies. The parking lot is frequently full as members (anyone is free to join) participate in movie nights, community dinners, re-skilling classes, discussions on banking and renewable energy. Additionally, the Sebastopol Grange supports political causes (such as Prop 37) and is hosting a local food cooperative’s nine-week food purchasing program. Jaffe’s group is also working with 4H, the Future Farmers of America and actively working to raise money for scholarships.

The Sebastopol Grange, like about 40 other Granges in California are experiencing a resurgence with the flood of interest in local food systems, organic farming and farmer’s markets. The historic ideals of the Grange — community, political action, education, self-empowerment and the appreciation of agricultural work — speak as much to modern society as they did in its founding in 1870.

Jaffe, a well-known environmental activist and member of the county’s Community Development Commission Board, FarmLink and former farmer, is somehow the most likely and most unlikely guy to be running one of the state’s oldest agricultural fraternities. Organized in Sebastopol in 1898, Grange #306 is one of 11 granges in Sonoma County, and one of about 169 in the state. But #306, like many other granges, had fallen into dusty, disuse over the years, as family farms fell onto hard times and the agricultural population aged. Few urbanites even know the purpose of a grange anymore.

“The principles of what the Grange was founded on are what we need right now,” said Jaffe. That means fostering community, sound economics, taking care of our land and eating clean food. “This is the time for a Renaissance,” he said. “We are re-occupying the halls and serving our communities,” said Jaffe, 47, who is easily a decade or two younger than his Grange Master predecessors, wears an Food Justice T-shirt up-cycled from the Goodwill and peppers the conversation with progressive ideas like ” community resilience”, “post carbon” and “GMO-free”. “That represents my community,” he says of the mix of new and old ideas fomenting in the heart of Sebastopol.

“It’s too bad that a word like ‘toil’ is so out of fashion, but that’s what we’re honoring — the farmers who built this hall and this County. We want to preserve their legacy and welcome future farmers to learn agricultural arts,” he said.

Nationally, there are around 350,000 grange members and that number is growing. Jaffe says Sebastopol may be slightly ahead of the curve, but that community-gathering places like the Grange are integral to the nation’s future. “It’s time to inspire people to action. If we are getting ready for the future, that means taking care of our self, and our local community. To do that we need a place to come together and transfer ideas for growing food and growing our local economy.”

And while much of the membership are already among the “converted” when it comes to sustainable food sheds, organic produce and the ideals of food justice, Jaffe’s says that anyone can grow a tomato.

“America needs 50 million new farmers,” he says of the need for individuals to move toward self-reliance and responsibility toward their own food. But at the end of the day, its also about bringing people together. “Look, we’re having a good time by brining in good food, music, speakers, ideas and supporting our local food economy,” he said.

 

Author: biteclub

Food Dining and Restaurants in Sonoma County and beyond, BiteClubEats.com is Wine Country dining with Drive-Thru Sensibility.

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13 Comments

  1. So are there monthly meetings and when?

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  2. And don’t forget to swing on by the Sebastopol Grange on Nov. 1st at 6pm to swap locally grown and produced goods and eat some yummy foods!

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  3. This one person has caused a ripple effect in the community by his choice to take action. May we all be a positive part of something greater then ourselves and give back to the community that we live in, irregardless of what adjective we use.

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    • Thanks for the feedback. I am passionate about telling these stories because I think they are the stories of people taking AcTION in our communities rather than whining about what we could be. They help shine a light on actionable things we can do in our foodshed. Let the PD know u care about these stories and ill keep finding them.

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  4. Great article, we love our Grange in Sonoma. We were able to revive our grange here along with many other granges are truly remarkable. Four years ago, I went on a national tour of Granges, super fun!
    By far one of my favorites is the Boonville CA, Manchester Grange CA, Grange & Putney Vermont! Keep up the great writing!

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  5. You know what’s not PROGESSIVE??? Picking apart a well weitten article about the rebirth of a much needed institution and the relentless passion of one man who took it upon himself to garner the support to make it happen in the self-interest of showing your “superior” wordsmith-ing and your political “savy”. Next time maybe just let the professional write and you help the cause by reporting the article through your own social network??? By the way, let me save you some time….I am well aware that that was a run-on sentence, containing many errors and probably a few words that don’t exist. I would correct it but that would take away from me reporting on my Facebook pages and website so others can read it.

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  6. Lawrence Jaffe is a renaissance farmer – he has brought the greater local community together through the Grange !

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  7. Nope, actually a cheap-shot, partisan point in a non-partisan food blog.

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    • the term was progressive, not Progressive (as in the party)

      feel free to Google it, but i can save you the time…

      pro·gres·sive   [pruh-gres-iv] Show IPA
      adjective
      1.
      favoring or advocating progress, change, improvement, or reform, as opposed to wishing to maintain things as they are, especially in political matters: a progressive mayor.
      2.
      making progress toward better conditions; employing or advocating more enlightened or liberal ideas, new or experimental methods, etc.: a progressive community.
      3.
      characterized by such progress, or by continuous improvement.
      4.
      ( initial capital letter ) of or pertaining to any of the Progressive parties in politics.
      5.
      going forward or onward; passing successively from one member of a series to the next; proceeding step by step.

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  8. This is Outstanding! Hats off to you Mr. Jaffe. A job well done. Keep up the great toiling work. I ride past the grange twice during late afternoons on the Jo Rodota Trail and have always wondered what went on there. Thanks to wonderful givers like you, now I know. THIS is front page news. How refreshing.

    One suggestion: Drop that word progressive. The way it is thrown around in the political landscape, it means anything but.

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    • Good point on “progressive” but the only other words i could think of carried even more political unclarity. Heh.

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      • It’s a great article but is mistaken on one point. Jaffe is a couple decades OLDER than the last Grange Master who was a high school student. He gave up the position when he graduated and had to go out of town to college. The Grange gives the vote and the right to hold office from age 14 up. The Grange after its inception nationally following the Civil War has never discriminated against teens or women who had the vote in the Grange a half century before the government let them vote. The other mission of the Grange is to foster education. I am proud to be a Granger.
        Andrea Granahan

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      • Instead of “progressive”, how about using the word “forward-looking”.

        It’s not so much about where you’re coming from…as to where you’re going?

        It may seem awkward as an adjective, but it’s very functional.

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