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Renovation of longstanding farm hub finally coming to harvest


With the recent demolition of the Grange’s old restrooms, to make way for new ADA-compliant facilities, volunteers have jumpstarted a renovation project that has been moving at a caterpillar’s pace.

While removing the walls and flooring down to their studs, Grange volunteers made two discoveries – redwood framing that is nowhere near up to current code and two empty Goebel Beer cans, circa 1940.

The collectible cans will eventually be displayed, and the building plans have been adjusted to reflect the need for earthquake retrofitting and additional studs. The men’s and women’s restrooms plus a storage area will be complete by May, occupying the front of the building, a space that many years ago was a porch.

Permits are in place for the restrooms, a commercial kitchen, new floors and roofing. Grange members have raised $140,000 toward the $250,000 necessary to complete the project.

The Sonoma Valley Grange was chartered in 1924, when the organization purchased the building - that is still its headquarters on Highway 12 in Boyes Hot Springs - from the Rosenthal Resort. The building is more than 100 years old, and is believed to have been built in 1910. Dropped acoustical ceilings and some of the 1970s wall paneling from an old remodel have already been removed, exposing beautiful fir-bead board.

“Every generation has to do its best to keep it within a few decades of up-to-date,” said Jim Callahan, the longtime Grange member who is spearheading the fundraising and renovation. He believes the Grange is a necessary center for a new generation of young farmers and is central to the current farm-to-table movement of healthy and environmentally conscious eating.

“You can choose Monsanto or you can choose Oak Hill Farm and Paul’s Produce,” Callahan said.

The certified commercial kitchen will be both a source of income for the Grange and a much-needed place for farmers and other entrepreneurs to make products such as jams and salsas to sell. “It will provide an incubator for the economic rising tide of the Springs,” Callahan said. The building is also frequently rented out for parties and fundraisers, and a new kitchen will make it much more desirable facility.

The current kitchen has a huge, ancient Wolf Junior gas stove that will be eventually auctioned to raise funds. The new kitchen expenses will be covered by $100,000 donated by Mac and Leslie MacQuown, owners of Stone Edge winery and organic farm.

Grange vice president Stacey Tuel, who is also a member of the Young Farmers Guild that meets at the Grange, helped out on demolition day and is very enthusiastic about the future of the Grange. “We have to decide how, as a community, we are going to use this hall to its greatest advantage. This needs to be a community endeavor,” she said. “It also has to stay affordable.”

In 2002 when Callahan, a professional sculptor, got involved with the Grange, there were 42 members, most all of whom were senior citizens who had belonged to the Grange for many, many years. There are now 140 members, many of whom are young farmers, and there are chefs and winemakers who belong, as well.

Callahan points out that the easiest way to support the Grange in simply to pay the $35 a year it costs to join, and to attend Grange events like its all-organic, homemade pancake breakfasts, the solstice and equinox dinners, and the Whole Hog Dinner, when a pig is roasted and served. It’s a good way to make new friends and find out what’s going on in the world of agriculture.

He says that if you eat food you are part of the agricultural community.

“People care about healthy food,” Tuel said. “I have the feeling Sonoma is ready for this,” meaning she sees a very significant revival of the Grange in the near future. The Sonoma Valley Grange looks to the Sebastopol Grange, which has seen membership skyrocket in recent years, as a model.

With the renovation actually under way, there is a butterfly in its future.