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Finding a future for a by-gone building: Two neighbors bring agriculture back to Rough and Ready Grange

Submitted photo by Laura Brown

Two neighbors in Rough and Ready are trying to reinvigorate their local grange by bringing together a community of small farmers and gardeners under one roof.

Ann Driver and Cathé Fish will hold their second Small Farm and Garden Forum from 7 to 9 p.m. today, in the historic Rough and Ready Grange.

Dan Wheat Sr., owner of A to Z Supply will give a presentation on beekeeping with permaculture beekeeper Neal Sullivan.

It’s National Grange Month and Driver and Fish hope the farm forum will boost membership, just $30 a year, for the underused grange hall.

“Breathing life into the grange makes sense. Anytime you bring people together something good can come of it.”

— Cathé Fish

“Breathing life into the grange makes sense. Anytime you bring people together something good can come of it,” Fish said.

A permaculture teacher and one of the organizers of the sustainable food and farm conference, Fish sees an opportunity with the Rough and Ready Grange.

She moved near Driver on Cook Road last summer after looking more than four years for a suitable small farm property.

She met Driver one Sunday at the grange when she came out to listen to the Fruit Jar Pickers play their weekly songs.

The two hit it off and soon realized they had much in common in terms of food and farm ethics. They both believe small farms and local food are the cornerstones of a vibrant community.

So last month, they organized the first Small Farm and Garden Forum. About 28 people attended.

“Which is huge for this town,” Fish said.

People turned out to the forum to hear how to build more local food self-sufficient neighborhoods and increase income opportunities for producers.

“We had this meeting and people were kind of excited,” Fish said.

Membership has dwindled at the grange in recent years. Fish and Driver hope by attracting a younger generation of farmers and gardeners to the grange, the Gold Rush-era building will come to life again.

“I know what the Grange was originally. It was supportive of local agriculture,” said Driver who was told by some that farming was dead.

“What these people didn’t realize is there’s a renaissance of younger farmers,” Fish said.

She and Driver envision much more than a monthly forum. They see the grange returning to its agricultural roots with activities like: dances, screening of farm and food issue movies, a seed exchange, a farmers market, food swaps, a place to trade and barter and even a medium for trading heavy equipment like tractors.

“There are so many possibilities,” Fish said. Through these events, Driver and Fish hope to bring awareness to the local resources that are available.

In May, Roger Ingram farm advisor for University of California Cooperative Extension in Placer and Nevada Counties will give a presentation about “How to Cope with Drought.”

The Rough and Ready Grange #795 was originally built as an Independent Order of Odd Fellows in 1851 as the Mountain Rose Lodge of the I.O.O.F., according to the grange website. Completely destroyed by fire in 1854, the hall was rebuilt almost immediately and managed to survive the town fires of 1856 and 1859.

After the society joined with the Grass Valley lodge, the building was deeded to the town for use as a community center.

“We formed for the purposes of sharing local ranch and farming information, trading and bartering,” the website reads.

The Grange is a grassroots organization that began in 1867 following the Civil War.

The Grange supports and advocates for healthy communities, family farms, local economies, cultural diversity, public schools, the arts and a variety of charitable causes.

There are 206 chapters across the state and granges in 2,100 rural towns across the U.S., according to the California State Grange and national grange website.

At the national level, the Grange has lobbyists and lawyers in Sacramento and Washington D.C., a resource that could be of value to local farmers, Fish believes.

“The grange is here to protect the small person,” she said.

In recent year, the Rough and Ready Grange’s connection to agriculture had begun to slip away. The building has remained a community gathering spot for monthly $5 Saturday morning breakfasts, fall chili cook-offs and history re-enactments during the Annual Secession Days each summer.

A small group of aging members kept the building going, but membership dropped off when people moved out of the area or could no longer drive.

“We had so much trouble getting people to participate in the grange,” Driver said.

“It was a relic of a different age,” said Fish, who is thankful the building was kept alive but also sees a lot of untapped potential.

Rough and Ready is a rural community. The neighborhood where Driver and Fish live is made up of a patchwork of five- to 20-acre plots. Driver’s favorite place to shop is the Farm Store. She raises bees and grows fruit trees on her 12 ½ acres on Cook Road.

“We need a really strong food network that will be here for our community,” she said.

This evening’s Small Farm and Garden Forum is a free event for all farmers and gardeners. April is Grange Membership drive month and with each $30 annual membership, $25 will go directly back to the Rough and Ready Grange.

Rough and Ready Grange is located at 14550 Rough and Ready Highway Rough and Ready. For more information call 272- 4142 or visit: http://www.roughandreadygrange.com/

Contact freelance writer Laura Brown at laurabrown323@gmail.com or 530-401-4877.

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