Elbow Creek Grange: The San Joaquin Valley's Leading Star
by Trudy Wischemann, Director of Communications, Elbow Creek Grange
Elbow Creek Grange, #733 just north of Visalia in Tulare County, received the second highest number of new members in the State's 2010 membership drive. The largest local grange in the San Joaquin Valley, Elbow Creek now stands at 175 members.
What makes Elbow Creek such a viable grange is a combination of gifts and needs. The monthly potluck meetings serve the need for community among long-time residents who are largely rural and engaged in the area's diverse agriculture, and who would not otherwise have a time and place to talk. "All you really have to do is call everybody the day before the meeting," says Grange master Richard Jones, "and if you're providing something they want, people will come."
Those projects include support for the Elbow Creek 4-H, one of the most active in the southern San Joaquin, and the neighboring Elbow Creek School. They provide funding for the school's PTA Helping Hands program at Christmas, as well as throwing a Christmas Party complete with Santa Claus for the kids and their families. They also offer scholarships to young, prospective farmers. This year they awarded $500 each to two Exeter FFA'ers, Sarah Avila and Tamara Tollefson. Having a purpose is what makes this membership grow. "Remember: a motivated Grange is a growing Grange," is one of Richard's favorite sayings.
This grange was nearly dead in 2003. A few dedicated souls, however, realized that they just didn't want to lose the building, one of the few meeting places in this region of widely-spaced dairies, field crops and citrus groves. A modest concrete block structure built in the early 1950's, the hall is simple with a good kitchen which serves the purposes of this Grange as well as weddings and parties. Rentals provide some of the income for maintenance and projects.
This year the members used the hall themselves during elections, raising an extra $750. They also plan to have a food booth at the International Ag Expo in Tulare in February, and hope all those Grangers who come will Come On By! and enjoy some of their good food.
"Working with the membership can be a little like trying to juggle peanut butter," Richard said one day in a conversation about how they pulled Elbow Creek back from the brink of extinction. "You've got to offer people something in order to get their cooperation. You've got to learn which ones need what, and find out what skills folks have and use those. Then," he grinned, using a metaphor from cowboy country, "you just work 'em to the middle and try to keep everybody calm."
Calm, and with a sense of purpose, is what makes Elbow Creek a great Grange.
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