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Around The Grange
Petaluma, California has a brand new Grange

By Marie Thomas McNaughton, Petaluma360.com (7/30/11)

  AUGUST 14, 2011 --

Members of Petaluma's new grange association met Monday to receive their designation as local No. 851 in the nation's oldest fraternal organization of farmers. Charter member Paul Wallace was there to volunteer his store, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds in the historic Sonoma County National Bank building, as the grange's meeting hall.

That's in keeping, says Wallace, with his company's mission to nourish those “craving education on heirlooms and pure food in general.”

This is not your grandparents' grange, dedicated to potlucks and pancake breakfasts, though those traditional activities are on its agenda. The tune to which this group marches is more in keeping with the rabblerousing spirit of the original grangers of the 1870s, who were strangled by government regulation, railroad transportation fees and predatory banking practices.

Monday's three-dozen members and guests included local agriculturists, pure food activists, environmentalists, garden club members and hobbyists, teachers, politicos and the simply curious. They shared an interest in safe food, sustainable agriculture and a retying of frayed community bonds between growers and consumers.

California State Grange president and master granger Bob McFarland was there to certify the local union and answer questions about the recently revived grange movement. “We have confirmed 14 new local granges just this year,” he noted.

The state now boasts more than 200 chapters and 10,000 members, with more chapters in development. That represents the first growth in 30 years.

This kind of agricultural activism may not have been seen since 1867, when the fraternal nonprofit formed in Washington, D.C., as the “Order of Patrons of Husbandry.”

“These are the movers and shakers, farmers, business people and public servants of all ages who want to make a difference and are young in energy if not years,” said McFarland.

Tiffany Renée, Petaluma city council member and a charter member of the new grange agrees.

“My interest is in creating good public policy with which we can protect one aspect or area of the environment without unintentionally crippling another,” she said.

Renee's ag roots are deep and broad, stretching from the American colonies in the 1600s on her father's side to the Oklahoma walnut farmers on her mother's side who emigrated to California in the 1930s.

“I really became concerned when I learned just how farmers are struggling, how low crop values and farmer incomes are, and how many farmers are over the age of 65,” Renée explained. “Pair this with how many people are going hungry, and you see that food insecurity and the future of agriculture need to be addressed together, now.”

Yannick Phillips, a member of the Sonoma Valley local and midwife to the Petaluma grange, says her involvement stemmed from the 2007 quarantine forced on Sonoma farmers to combat light brown apple moth infestation.

“I was upset,” she said. “I found that the farmers were also upset, but they would not speak up. They were afraid of the government over-regulating in retaliation.”

Phillips stepped up, collecting signatures supporting the farmers and playing an integral part in ending the quarantine.

“Farmers often don't feel as if they have representation or understanding from non-farmers,” she said.

Some of the small-scale farmers at Monday's meeting were wary about discussing hot-button issues with nonmembers present. Those issues included raw-dairy herd sharing and vocational apprenticeships that can run afoul of government regulation.

This echoes the defensive posture and practices of the grange movement's origins, when corporate and government spies tried to infiltrate grange activities.

The founding Patrons of Husbandry structured the Grange along lines similar to the Freemasons', for example, taking oaths, practicing rituals and exchanging secret forms of identification, in part to ensure the group's privacy.



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