Letters On Grange Controversy
Letter to the Editor:
I am troubled by the repetition of untrue statements that put the Washington State Grange in a negative light. There are always two sides to a story. The State Grange stepped in due to clear and tangible concerns being raised by San Juan Island Grange members.
For example, our Grange was denying membership to individuals who wanted to join, and it was making financial decisions that were being questioned as to whether they were financially attainable or in the best interests of the San Juan Grange.
When the State Grange stepped in to check on these complaints, they were met with distrust and treated disrespectfully by our San Juan Grange leadership. Finally, at one local Grange meeting a motion from the floor was made to send an apology letter to a visiting Whidbey Island Grange Deputy. This Deputy was told by a San Juan Grange Board member that he was not welcome here and he was just a spy. The San Juan Grange Board voted, as a voting block, against writing an apology letter, but the membership rightfully passed the motion and sent an apology letter. As soon as the motion passed, the secretary of the San Juan Grange resigned.
A few days later the whole Board resigned. Yes, many Grange members were still concerned about the use of the financial interests of the Grange by the Farmers Market group, and San Juan Grange members were going to continue to address this concern.
The San Juan Grange membership patiently waited many months for a promised feasibility study, but no numbers were ever shared with the membership. As far as I know, our local Grange was never told not to do a feasibility study. It was not until shortly after the San Juan Grange Board all resigned that the Washington State Grange finally stepped in and chose to place our Grange on suspension.
The State Grange wisely chose to spend several months deliberating before formally accepting the San Juan Grange Board’s mass resignations. The State Grange is now simply being prudent. They are planning on how and when to move forward. It should be at their discretion and in the Grange way, not as Editors or disgruntled people wish.
I am troubled by the actions of former Grange members who resigned from the Grange. Their petition actions and comments unfairly put our State Grange in a negative light in our local paper, and their actions are self serving for their individual personal interests or regrets. This kind of action is not representative of Grange philosophy.
The tension mentioned in your [The Journal] recent Editorial is due to frustration over some members of the Farmer’s Market group who do not want to give up getting their way with the San Juan Grange. I do not know of any local Grange member who is against the Farmers Market, yet that is what keeps getting portrayed. Grange members simply want financial stability and autonomy. As you quoted in your Editorial, fighting back and forth in the newspaper is not in line with a Grange member’s 1st degree obligation. That is why you have not heard a lot of responses to the airing of Grange laundry.
Again, this is not the Grange way, and I have reluctantly stepped forward with this information. I am being pushed over the edge by what I see as unfair actions and statements by a few disgruntled individuals who want to portray the State Grange as a bully because they did not get their way. The State Grange has absolutely no intention of making the local Grange facilities unavailable or unaffordable for use by other local groups or organizations. The rental process is still being done locally, and it is now actually being done more evenhandedly. I encourage the State Grange to take its time and think long and hard about how to proceed in educating and reuniting San Juan Grange members.
Before reinstatement, I believe our Grange needs to:
• See signs of true commitment to the Grange principles and Grange obligations by the local membership. This starts with some mutual respect. Fighting back and forth in the newspaper, petitions, unfounded rumors and fears must be replaced with truth, faith and an honest interest in seeking what is in the best interest for the San Juan Grange. The good of the order comes before individual business interests.
• See evidence that the Farmer’s Market group has given up its quest to take over the San Juan Grange for its financial use, or make sure the finances and identity of the local Grange are separate and protected. As I see it, the Farmers Market Group methodically took over the Board of the Grange and started to use it for special privileges, and they were taking action to use the Grange as the financial tool to meet the entrepreneurial needs of the Farmers Market membership. The Farmer’s Market and the Grange are separate entities that need to maintain their individual identities and autonomy. They should work together, but they are separate entities.
When the Grange does restart, I believe some changes will need to be made. I suggest:
• Changing the Grange mission statement to one that reflects and encompasses the broader Grange values.
• There should be equal treatment of all non profits in renting the Grange Hall. In the past, special treatment has been given based on individual leadership preferences. Businesses and certain entrepreneurs should not get preferential treatment over other community members or over other community non profit groups.
• Individual membership use of the Grange Hall should be changed to correct some abuses of the system.
• Some additional protections regarding the finances and assets of the Grange should be set up.
• A complaint system to sanction or reprimand members who do not follow their Grange obligations should be outlined to help promote understanding and respect at meetings and toward each other.
• The Grange should seek a more balanced Grange membership from the local community and non profit groups. This would help promote the broad interests, intent and scope of the Grange.
Cc online newspapers
Letter to the Editor:
We are writing about the current contentious situation at the San Juan Island Grange #966 regarding its Spring Street property. We have been members of the SJI Grange for several years and until this year have greatly enjoyed attending meetings and participating in Grange activities. We have been especially heartened by the influx of new members, many of whom are farmers and/or consumers wanting to support local farmers and have more local foods produced and made available in our community. The SJI Grange even received an award at the 2007 State Grange Convention for the most new members in the State.
The current controversy is over the Grange property on Spring Street that was originally purchased in 1937. At that time a co-operative facility was built, providing Grange members with access to refrigeration and freezer lockers, fuel, and scales for weighing crops and livestock. The co-operative was dissolved in 1946 (although scales remained on site for Grange use until 1963), and the site has since been leased, currently to Car Quest/NW Auto Supply.
In February 2006 the SJI Grange held a strategic planning session out of which came a reinvigoration of the membership with a commitment to support and promote local agriculture. The mission of the SJI Grange #966 is to foster an environmentally sound and economically vital agricultural community. It was at this strategic planning session that discussions began about the Spring Street property and the possibilities for its use to further this mission. Several ideas for a remodel have been under consideration, including a year-round covered farmers market location, a local agricultural products store front, a commercial kitchen, and freezer and refrigeration lockers - especially for those farmers on Waldron who have no electricity (the Orcas Island Grange was instrumental in introducing rural electrification to San Juan County).
In September 2006 the San Juan Island Grange membership voted unanimously to support the Executive, Project Design and Finance committees’ continuing study of the Spring Street property project. The expectation was that a feasibility study would provide the membership with the information needed to decide how best to proceed. The committees studying this project always understood and communicated that the Spring Street property would need to include leased commercial spaces to generate at least the current rental income to provide for on-going Grange expenses and activities. The committees studying this project also have always understood and communicated that the project would need to be financed with grant funds and/or donations so as not to put a financial burden on the SJI Grange.
The services of a structural engineer and an architect were secured to determine the condition of the Spring Street property building and its suitability for conversion as well as for continued current use. Both found the building to be in good condition, with no structural problems. Any exterior changes were determined to be primarily cosmetic, with only minimal construction involved.
There has been a lot of discussion and speculation about the cost of completing the Department of Ecology (DOE) environmental clean up of the property. There has also been opposition to a change in the current use of the property due to the completion of the environmental clean up required and its cost (with anecdotal estimates ranging from $500 to $500,000). However, until the DOE determines what clean up remains to be done, the potential cost will not be known. One of the major advantages in pursuing a project that supports direct marketing of local agricultural products (such as a year-round covered farmers market) is that it is eligible for grant funding, and there is the potential that the cost of the required DOE clean up could be included in such a grant-funded project.
There are several reasons why we support the prospect of a project that would change the current use of the Spring Street property to support the mission of our Grange. As members of the Grange and therefore stewards of the property it owns, we are concerned by the current condition of the Spring Street property. Even if completing the environmental clean up were not required, it would be the right thing to do.
We are strong supporters of agriculture in our community. A year-round covered farmers market and/or other venues that support direct marketing of local agricultural products would provide farmers with additional sales opportunities and give county residents and visitors increased access to local agricultural products. We concur with the February 2007 draft Economic Development Element of SJC’s Comprehensive Plan which states that SJC agriculture “ensures a fresh, healthy, local supply of food – which is a valuable community asset in and of itself, but absolutely critical in times of emergency (i.e. islands are cut off from mainland due to some kind of natural or man-made catastrophe).”
We take seriously our fiduciary responsibility to the Grange, on a local and State level. The commercial leased spaces would continue to provide the SJI Grange with the income needed for ongoing property maintenance, taxes, and program costs. Grange members would be able to take pride in furthering a legacy for future Grange and community members. Overall the Spring Street property could become a thriving business site in Friday Harbor that supports and renews our agricultural heritage.
We understand the opposition to a change in the current use of the Spring Street property by the current tenants, who have also recently joined the Grange. However, we are flummoxed at the extreme opposition from other Grange and community members, and in particular the State Grange, before a feasibility study is even completed. A feasibility study is nothing more than a tool that will provide the membership with the information needed to decide how best to proceed. We implore SJI Grange members and the local community to take the time to consider the role and place in downtown Friday Harbor of the Grange’s Spring Street property.
We understand that the State Grange would need to approve any changes to and/or any new lease agreements for SJI Grange property. We also understand that any changes in use or lease agreements proposed to the State would need to first be ratified by the SJI Grange membership. We ask the State Grange to support and encourage the work of the SJI Grange in increasing its membership and revitalizing its agrarian roots. We implore the State Grange to honor the mission of the SJI Grange and to remember that the entire purpose of owning and leasing the SJI Grange’s Spring Street property (as well as the Grange Hall on First Street) should be to support the mission and activities of the SJI Grange.
For those interested there is a July 29 2007 Seattle Times article on efforts by other communities to revitalize their Granges, something that the SJI Grange has accomplished with great success: http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/pacificnw07292007/2003802221_pacificpgrange29.html
Lovel and Boyd Pratt
Members, SJI Grange #966
Dear Roger Ellison,
Regarding the “Straw Man” letter and “for reasons still unknown”:
It is unfair to state that those who are opposed to the idea of a Farmers Market at the Grange property on Spring Street, are telling, “the big lie”. It is also not reasonable to believe that you were not allowed to ask questions abut the CarQuest building. It would be more appropriate for you to tell us what the big lie is, and what questions you have about the CarQuest building.
For the record, I know of no one who is opposed to the Farmers Market finding a permanent place to do business. I know of many members who question putting the Grange at financial risk for the Farmers Market. These people only question the costs and location being suggested. I, as well as other people, feel the Grange stands for many things, and that it should not put its whole mission and vision behind the Farmers Market desires and wish list.
From my point of view:
1.) We know that the Grange would have to go into substantial debt to accomplish the task the Farmers Market group wants.
2.) We know that if the property were improved the Grange would not be looking at needing just the $3000 rental income you mention. It would have to be much higher number.
3.) The costs to do this project could be as much as $1,000,000. The Grange has a little over $10,000 in the bank. With closing costs we could have a $7000 a month loan payment. The $3000 mentioned is not a reasonable number for anyone to be using. There is also the possibility of unexpected remodel costs, like finding asbestos.
4.) We know the State Grange would not allow the San Juan Grange to have this kind of debt on this property. They would be remiss if they did.
5.) We know that the Farmers Market Group: pays nothing for the current space they use, they are only open for a few hours on Saturday, they are not open all year round and individual vendor attendance varies a lot.
6.) We know a proportional overhead and replacement costs would need to be paid by each individual Farmer Market vendor to the Grange. This cost would be substantially higher than their current free location. These costs would not go away during the months that the Farmers Market group shuts down. Simply put, can these farmers afford the costs?
7.) We know that the Grange would need substantial deposits from each Farmers Market vendor, to guarantee the project for the loan and risk.
8.) We know that 8 months went by without any numbers being put forward on this project or its costs vs possible returns. The State Grange halted the San Juan Grange actions for maybe one month, and that is not an excuse for not providing any numbers in 8 months.
9.) We know the State Grange Master said there will not be a Farmers Market at the Spring Street property.
10.) We know that this controversial issue is harming the Grange.
11.) We know of no viable “Anchor Tenant”, and no list of Farmers Market vendor commitments. I believe this is because it would be hard to find farmers able to afford the required deposit and lease guarantees, not to mention finding the appropriate anchor tenant.
I wish to see members treating each other with dignity and respect, and providing facts rather than slinging mud. That way we can hope to make progress understanding how to get something done right, and by taking actions that make prudent business sense.
San Juan Island
To the Editor:
The straw man never had a chance. For reasons still unknown, a group of San Juan Island Grange members so strongly opposed even the asking of a question that they were willing to resort to the big lie. Local Grange leadership had been setting up committees to explore the feasibility of converting the CarQuest building, which is owned by the Grange, to a use that matched their mission of support for the agricultural community. What was emerging from the committees was the idea of a business center that leased the front part of the building to a retail establishment while making the rear repair bays available for use by the Farmers Market. The opposition characterized this option as “converting the CarQuest building into a farmers market” and ridiculed the idea saying that no farmers market could match the $3000 monthly rent that CarQuest currently pays. Nobody from the Grange feasibility committees called for the entire building to be used for the market, nor expected the market to pay all the costs. This straw man was constructed by a small group of opponents and repeated so often that it became the plan in the eyes of many Islanders. Even as late as this week, online news media are repeating this falsehood. Allow me to repeat for the record: The feasibility studies were looking into whether it made sense to lease the front part of the CarQuest building to an anchor tenant who would pay nearly all the rent for the building. The cheap, minimally improved repair bays would be rented to the Farmers Market as part of the mission of the local Grange to help local producers to sell directly to Islanders. One puzzle remains: why such strong opposition so early in the planning process? Why were we not allowed to ask questions about the CarQuest building?
Former Grange Overseer,
San Juan Island