Patti Bess
Special to The Union

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April 22, 2014
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Springing into action

Rich Marks is a retired elementary school teacher. He and his wife, Annie, homesteaded their property in Chicago Park for more than 25 years. Marks is the current president of the Banner Grange and he’s a man on a mission. He and his other board members are working hard to re-invigorate the participation in the grange.

The Banner Grange, Grass Valley was chartered in 1930. (There is also a grange in Rough and Ready and an Empire Grange.)

The grange concept began as a grassroots organization in 1867 to support local farmers, especially in the South, to get them back to farming and raising America’s food after the Civil War.

For the next 100 years, the number of granges grew exponentially across the country. The purpose of the Grange was to help farmer-owned collectives bring members together to sell their crops in storefronts all over America.

They advocated fair prices for farmers in contrast to the exploitative monopolies of the robber barons of that time. They also became buying clubs. But most of all, they provided much needed social outlets and a sense of community for isolated farm families.

It was, in part, the lobbying by grange members that persuaded the state of California to develop water resources for farm use in the early part of 20th century.

With the decline of family farms in the last half of the 20th century, grange halls began to close and fall into disrepair.

But in the past four years, there has been a renaissance of interest driven by the increase in small farms and the fast growing segment of locally grown and organic produce.

Grange halls are owned by their members. They are governed by an elected board and operate on democratic principles.

Marks is not alone in his vision of restoring the Banner Grange.

In recent years, under new leadership, the Hessel Grange in Sebastopol tripled its membership and is utilizing its building for yoga classes, a growers’ exchange, a ping pong night and for raising money with pancake breakfasts. In Napa and other agricultural counties in Northern California, as well as Oregon and Washington, there has been a surge in new memberships as more organic farm families unite to lobby for progressive causes and to exchange information on everything from permaculture to bee keeping and soil building.

“We want the Grass Valley community to know that the Grange is back in business,” Rich Marks commented.

One of the ways that grange halls across the country are able to pay their own bills is by renting their building out—for community meetings of various kinds, classes, dances and events organized by both businesses and private people.

“The Grass Valley (Banner) Grange has an incredible kitchen. Our goal is to remodel it and bring it up to code so that it can be used as a commercial kitchen,” he added.

Marks is also planning to start a winter farmer’s market next fall where regional produce would be available. A buying club for both farmers and community members to purchase commodities and farm necessities at reduced rates is also on the drawing board.

Last February the grange hosted the first seed exchange. A potluck dinner and Contra dance fundraiser is planned at 6 p.m. Saturday, with dancing from 7 to 10 p.m. at the Banner Grange, 12629 McCourtney Road.

Music will be provided by Bob O‘Brien & Hot Cider. Tickets are $5 for members and $10 for nonmembers.

Everyone is asked to bring their own plates and utensils. All proceeds will go toward the development of the kitchen into a commercial facility for the community at large.

Patti Bess is a freelance writer and cookbook author from Grass Valley. She can be reached at: for questions or suggestions.

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The Union Updated Apr 22, 2014 09:42PM Published Apr 22, 2014 09:42PM Copyright 2014 The Union. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.