Growing the Granges

By Connie Madden

California once had vibrant granges, most with their own halls, but they had since disappeared in many towns.  In the past few years, Grange news is upbeat and, in Sonoma County, there are now a total of TWELVE granges, several new, all of them growing.  Nationally, The Grange is comprised of over 350,000 members holding over 100,000 general membership meetings, Pomona Grange gatherings and Junior Grange meetings.

The Grange is news again as it was since its inception in 1867, and during the 1930’s when Granges helped each other recover from the hard farming days of the Depression.

Knowing that local foods are more sustainable and usually more flavorful and vibrant than those requiring fossil fuels to ship them thousands of miles, and that recent “100 year” droughts and floods events are becoming longer and more harsh than ever in history, the time to build local sources for food security is right in line the Grange practice called “Patrons of Husbandry” and a more communal way of life has come around again.

With global economic and climate changes so volatile, it’s common sense to not only to grow your Victory Garden, help create a food forest on public land or start a community garden, but also to form links with others who also share these practices, and this is what Granges do, running their own Youth Programs and Summer Camp (near Lake Tahoe) to encourage the next generation of farmers, forming alliances with 4H Clubs, Future Farmers of America, tie-ins to local charities and schools and, at Sonoma Valley Grange, a relationship with the local Transition US chapter to produce a film series and other projects.

Granges - Sonoma County, CA
Joan Bunn, member and photographer, Singer/songwriter, Larry Potts, communications committee member, Leslie Goodrich, at the Seed Bank

Former Petaluma Mayor, Pam Torliatt, now Grange President for Petaluma, was drawn by “the opportunity to work with a diverse group of people with the common vision of supporting small, local farmers and creating great tasting healthy food. We envision our membership to grow in the coming year.  The response we are getting a from not only Petaluma but other sister Granges is really exciting! Good friends, good food and great connections with people that have no experience to lots of experience farming many different products from meat, milk, vegetables, fruits, honey, etc.  Come join us and learn more.

Torliatt and her partner, Leo Ghirardelli, pursued their dream to start their own beef cattle business to “make Leo’s parent’s ranch a working farm again
and produce good, healthy, local foods.  We have grown our herd and now have our product available at Petaluma Market and we sell direct to the consumer from a 1/4 to a whole beef. The response to our product has been fabulous and we are proud to be a part of a growing movement for sustainable, organic farming!”  More info at

When asked what elements make for a full-on Grange experience, Yannick Phillips of Sonoma Valley Grange and California’s delegate to the National Grange, herself a seventh-degree Granger, says “To encourage the generational gap that can span from 8-80 year olds in the Grange, I recommend a ping-pong table- great unifier!” Phillips helped jump start two Granges in the last year or so, the Marin Grange and the Petaluma Community Guild, and she attended the National Grange Convention in Washington D.C.

By Connie Madden

The granges are full of farmers supporting farmers, legislating for regulations that support farmers, easy ways to sell produce and animal products and increased ability to hold public events so people are drawn to the small farms springing up all through our County.

California Grange Master, Bob McFarland, says a water issue brought him to the Grange.  Living in El Dorado County, the Water District was going to cut off a creek that and pipe its water to West County. Neighbors got together but the only group that would take up the work was the Grange and they very graciously offered to help, fighting big developers so water still flows through the creek “a good deal.”  McFarland has been a Grange leader for the past decade, though he never belonged to a fraternal organization before.  “But when I saw what a grassroots group can do – that our causes come from the individuals engaged in sustainable AG, and with the GMO labeling issue and more, what are the effects? “People want to know why we have all these food-born diseases, he states.  “We should be able to pick healthy, attractive food.”

“Were not teaching people anything new – we teach how to can, sew, butcher meat. It’s a really good time to be in the grange.

Shepherd Blisscollege communications teacher and Sebastopol Granger, says that ceremonies bring people together, singing, even saluting the flag.

Most granges include a Chaplain, a musician and regular get-togethers with potlucks, attracting new members with charm, community programs and great food, and his new farm-dog puppy, Winnie, is a great hit, too!

Lawrence Jaffeoutgoing President of the Sebastopol Grange, sited the upcoming Sonoma Green Power ordinance he’d been working on as a Board member of Sonoma County Climate Protection Campaign – which will supply vast amounts of non-fossil fuel energy while saving over $200 million a year for Sonoma County.

Sebastopol Grange activities this year included Harvest and Holiday parties, a debate on the GMO Labeling ballot initiative, showing of the film, Genetic Roulette with Transition US, a local candidate forum and a community event, Medicine for the People and a program on Fukishima, while Sonoma Valley Grange holds a bi-monthly pancake breakfast “In the Springs,” a Work Day, a Spring Fling Dinner and a Grange Flea Market.  Halls are sometimes used for election polling places, yoga classes, even dog training classes.

From Beth Lewis, Hessel Grange:  “Once a year we do have a traditional meeting with all of it’s trappings and sashes and formality.  This … keeps us connected to the history of the Grange and to our parent organization…”

Sonoma County Granges

(Map at California Grange site – Google Maps)

Bellevue #374, Santa Rosa

Bennett Valley #16, Santa Rosa

Bodega Bay #777, Bodega Bay

Cloverdale #456, Cloverdale

Geyserville #312, Geyserville

Healdsburg #400, Healdsburg

Hessell #750, Sebastopol

Petaluma #851, Petaluma

Rincon Valley #407, Santa Rosa

Sebastopol #306, Sebastopol

Sonoma Valley #407, Sonoma

Windsor #410, Windsor


This article originally appeared in the Sonoma County Gazette

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