Three years ago, Santa Rosa attorney Lawrence Jaffe decided he needed to do something about the graffiti on the side of the long-neglected Sebastopol Grange Hall. So he became the Grange Master.
That's a bit of a simplification, but Jaffe nonetheless likes to show people around the outside of the squat 1948 hall midway along Highway 12 that's recently been painted a tasteful sage green.
"See, it looks good, right?" he asks rhetorically, giving an impromptu tour of the exterior, pointing out the dusty, burnt scrub around the building where he plans to plant vegetables in the spring. Young farmers haul bags of local rice, wheat and produce inside to sell to co-op members the following day.
It's quite a change from three years ago when Grange Hall #306 had only five members and was beginning to crumble to dust. Since becoming Grange Master, Jaffe's helped raise that membership number to 120 with young homesteaders, do-it-yourself producers, greenhorn farmers and political foodies.
The parking lot is frequently full as members (anyone is free to join) participate in movie nights, community dinners, re-skilling classes, discussions on banking and renewable energy. Additionally, the Sebastopol Grange supports political causes and is hosting a local food cooperative's nine-week food purchasing program.
Jaffe's group is also working with 4H and the Future Farmers of America, and is actively working to raise money for scholarships.
The Sebastopol Grange, like about 40 other granges in California, is experiencing a resurgence with the flood of interest in local food systems, organic farming and farmers markets.
The historic ideals of the grange — community, political action, education, self-empowerment and the appreciation of agricultural work — speak as much to modern society as they did in its founding in 1870.
Jaffe, a well-known environmental activist, former farmer, member of the county's Community Development Commission board and the FarmLink nonprofit, is somehow the most likely and most unlikely guy to be running one of the state's oldest agricultural fraternities.