A New Lease on Life: The CA State Grange

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Lawrence Jaffe, farmer – lawyer – Grange revivalist

At the recent Farmers Guild meetup in Sebastopol, Lawrence Jaffe gave a colorful, short talk about:


The Sebastopol Grange was established in 1898, and in 1940 after the war, people in the community would finish their day harvesting or milking and then come over and work on building its Grange Hall.  They borrowed money from themselves, like holding their own pancake breakfasts and selling pancakes to themselves.  They raised the money by themselves.  When I looked through the rule books of our Grange, the people who built the hall and participated in it are the same names as all the streets around here and on all the orchards around here.  And yet, for years I would drive right by this building on Highway 12. 


The Grange was a group of people who were very active, but over time, people stopped getting excited about community, and they stopped supporting themselves, and they shrunk down to just four people.  And, this poor hall started sinking into the field out there, and one of the original guys was driving by – and he’s old – and he was trying to paint over the graffiti on the side, and he couldn’t get his arm up above his shoulder.   I was thinking about how I gave up farming to become a lawyer and, well, I knew we had to do something about this!

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And so now we’ve grown it from just 4 people to over 80 in recent years.  We just kept inviting our friends: other farmers, people transitioning jobs, people from [environmental organizations], people who are doing things in our community.  Together, we took over the Hall.  We have thrown open the doors, and we have brought back the FFA, the 4-H groups, the craft fairs, and permaculture talks  – all in the Grange Hall.  So it’s alive again.

It could be an interesting story about honoring the legacy of the people who built this Hall if it stopped there.  But, it turns out there are 383 Grange Halls in CA.

And so what do we do with a Grange Hall?  And why would you even care?  Well, first of all, farmers who were once young are now gone and have bequeathed these Halls to the future, and they are languishing. 

What can you do with a Hall that you own yourself that has a corporate structure, and a lobbyist in Sacramento, and a nonprofit attached to it?  You can do ANYTHING you can dream of.  Anytime you have a good idea, it usually starts at a kitchen table. And, if it’s a really good idea, then the ktichen table gets kind of crowded.  And then, you need a bigger place.  And, we have a rental structure at our Grange Hall that goes like this: the greater the good, the lower the price.

So, if you’re supporting anything, you can come use our hall. And if you have a birthday party, then you’re basically paying us to offer a free hall [to those doing good work].  And you’re invited.

It’s been a very interesting time in Grange-land. There is a National Grange that has been completely bought out by Monsanto.  When our local State Grange decided we were going to get behind labeling GMOs, trained people to gather signatures in our halls, put our name behind it, and spent our money on the lobbyist to go and try to pass it, the National Grange picked a fight with us, and told us that we were no longer welcome to be a part of the Grange Family of the United States.

So, we are in the midst of a really big fight.  A really big fight that I welcome because this is a fight with the right person on the other side. An ugly, immortal, Monsanto corporate personhood and their representatives.

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If you would like to join us in our State Convention — where we are now no longer part of the United States Grange, but the California Grange.  And, if you are about community resiliency, I’d like to invite you to join us for the Opening Night of our State Convention here in Sebastopol on October 9th for a reception…in your honor.

Come on down.  The President of the State Grange has heard about the Young Farmers Guild and asked me if I would hold a reception and invite you.  And then if you drink enough where you can’t go home, we’ll be showing Symphony of the Soil right afterwards.  And if you stay until the next day, we’ll be arguing about resolutions of what we stand for.  And, we stand for community resiliency, economic resiliency, keeping the money we make in the community IN the community, and doing for ourselves that which we can do.

And as you go to other places in the state, and you see these Grange Halls on the edge of the community, think of what fun you could have in there.  It’s free.  It’s a gift from the farmers who came before us.  Take them over!  Come join us.  Enjoy us.  And inspire old people to remember why they created these Halls.

Young Farmers Guild Happy Hour at the State Grange Convention
Wed, October 9th
5pm-7pm (followed by screening of The Symphony of the Soil)
Sebastopol Grange Hall
6000 Sebastopol Road, Sebastopol

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