Have you noticed the sign that was hanging from the Sonoma Valley Grange Hall is missing?
The iconic building with the colorful mural, located across from Mary’s Pizza, will soon boast a yet undecided new name to reflect the fact the community organization operating the building is no longer a Grange chapter. Why this is happening is a long, complicated story, which I’ll try to simplify. My husband and I are members of the soon-to-be-something-else Sonoma Valley Grange.
Bottom-line, we local Grange members got tired of being caught in a dispute involving the state and national Grange associations. The conflict had the potential of putting our local ownership of the Sonoma Valley Grange Hall in jeopardy. Thus the local members decided to spin off.
The root of this action is a dispute between the head of the National Grange Association and the former head of what is now a defunct California State Grange Association. The official title of the heads of state and national Granges is master. The National Grange Association charters state Grange associations. In order to actually be a Grange, local Grange chapters, like Sonoma Valley, must belong to their state Grange association.
A few years ago the National Grange’s master accused the master of the then California State Grange of breaking rules and violating the national association’s bylaws. Some claim the dispute was political, as the national association is more philosophically conservative than the previous California State Grange leadership.
The National Grange eventually revoked the charter of the California State Grange. Lawsuits followed, as well as a lot of confusion among local Grange chapters about what this meant. The other shoe dropped when the National Grange won a copyright lawsuit, which said a group couldn’t use the word “Grange” in its name unless it was part of the National Grange Association.
The ousted master of the defunct California State Grange created a new organization called the California Guild. He encouraged the Sonoma Valley Grange to join. Meanwhile, the National Grange master got a group of California Grange members to organize a new California State Grange Association. We were told that to continue to use the name Grange, Sonoma Valley would have to join the new California Grange Association. However, Sonoma Valley Grange members decided they had enough of this conflict. Instead of joining either association, Sonoma Valley members last month voted to become independent and establish a new 5o1(c)3 nonprofit. The new nonprofit will continue to do the same work the former Sonoma Valley Grange had been doing. That is promoting and supporting sustainable agriculture and healthy food, while operating the hall for the community’s benefit.
Speaking of the hall, turns out the hope that it would be available for public use again starting this month was overly optimistic. The county permit department won’t sign off on allowing public use of the building until the commercial kitchen remodel is finished. Due to the need for more funds to complete the work, it’s not known when that will occur.
I have mixed feelings about the fact we’ll no longer have an organization in the Valley called the Grange. The Sonoma Valley Grange was founded in 1924. It owned and operated the hall on Highway 12 since 1934. While the building itself isn’t considered historic by official standards, the building and the existence of a local Grange chapter is part of our history.
If you would like more information about the changes at the former Sonoma Valley Grange, or would like to contribute to help finish the kitchen remodel, contact the president Seth Dolinsky at [email protected]
Gina Cuclis has been a resident and community advocate in Boyes Hot Springs since 1990. She also represents Sonoma Valley on the Sonoma County Board of Education and is currently its president. Reach her at [email protected]