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Around The Grange
California Grange sprouts new seeds

By Greta Mart, Martinez News-Gazette, CA (8/23/11)

  SEPTEMBER 6, 2011 --

Fed in part by increased public interest in healthier food, the oldest agriculture-focused fraternal organization in the nation is making a comeback in urban, technology-infused Martinez, California. Bob McFarland, president of the California State Grange, said Monday he has officiated over the forming of 15 new Grange chapters across the state so far this year and 11 in 2010.

“We are going through a Grange renaissance for the second year in a row in the last 30 years,” said McFarland. “Folks nowadays are becoming much more aware and interested in the food they eat, where it comes from, how it was raised.”

Among chapters involved in the revival is one in Martinez, where recently a group of parents and teenagers applied to the State Grange office to reactivate the local chapter.

“Some of us who have been in 4-H for some time decided it’s time to move on to something different,” said spokesperson Karen Luckhurst for the newly-organized Martinez Grange #853. “Danville has a Grange chapter and while 4-H is mostly for kids, Grange is for the whole family.”

Along with the 4-H Club and Future Farmers of America, the National Grange has long attracted youth from around the country to raise farm animals to show at county and state fairs, nurture kitchen gardens and participate in wholesome service projects. There was a time not too long ago when countless rural communities across the Midwest and West prominently featured a Grange Hall, where folks would gather for dances and social events, debate the issues of the day and plan projects.

For a quarter of a century after its founding on Jan. 31, 1949, the Martinez Grange chapter was robust. Formed by then-State Grange official Edwin Koster, Chapter #747 boasted 86 charter members. The most active member was M.J. Trehino, who was soon elected and re-elected Master of the Grange in ensuing decades. Trehino served in other positions within the organization, as did other prominent locals. But after Trehino’s death, the chapter disbanded, officiallyclosing on June 3, 1976, according to Leslie Parker of the California State Grange.

Muir Oaks resident Laura DelFino is serving as president of the reactivating chapter and pointed out in a recent email that the nationwide Grange “is a grass-roots organization that began in 1867, older than the Statue of Liberty.”

DelFino said the local chapter is open to all members of the family and features two divisions: a Junior Grange for ages 5 through 13 and the regular membership for ages 14 and up. Luckhurst said that for Martinez youth, the Grange offers a chance for the whole family to get involved in agriculture-based activities.

“We’ll be taking care of animals [to show] at fairs, teaching leadership skills, public speaking, raising animals the right way,” Luckhurst said. “Hopefully some of the older generation will remember the Grange and help.”

The Martinez chapter has yet to locate a meeting hall and is still in the reactivation process, but Luckhurst and DelFino are encouraged by the response they’ve received. Last week, the duo set up a booth at Martinez Junior High School to introduce Grange to incoming students. Luckhurst said 30 families indicated interest.

 “We hope to start up in earnest in September,” she said. Across the state, over 10,000 members participate in Grange regularly. There are 206 California chapters. The national Grange organization reports to include 200,000 members in 37 states. According to the national association, “the Grange is also a fraternal order known as the Order of Patrons of Husbandry, hence the “P of H” on the organization’s logo. Founding members determined that a fraternal organization would be best able to combine loyalty anddemocratic ideals to provide service to others.” Luckhurst pointed out that the Grange was the first of all fraternal groups to include women on an equal footing with men. 

“It was the first national group that encouraged and allowed women to have a vote and a voice,” she added.

McFarland said that for all Grange chapters, the main focus remains on “helping farmers, protecting consumers,” as the state Grange motto goes, and pointed out the stated aim of the Grange “supports and advocates for healthy communities, family farms, local economies, cultural diversity, public schools and education, the arts, and a variety of charitable causes.”

“We want these youngsters to be the future leaders of the Grange and very much encourage youth participation in leadership of the organization,” said McFarland. “We’re not about making money, we’re about community service. Every dime we make returns to the community.” “We are being approached by young farmers, the sons and daughters of those who have maybe sold the family farm off to large corporations, he said. “These sons and daughters have nowhere to farm, but they have a focus on local producers. That’s what we are seeing.” Of the Grange revival, McFarland said it “couldn’t have come at a better time.”

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