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GRUB at risk of losing longtime home as lease not offered for renewal

Posted: 02/15/15,

A sign is posted near the entrance to the GRUB farm Wednesday. GRUB, the longtime intentional community that focuses on farming off of Dayton Road, is at risk of being put off the land it has tended for so long as the owner tries to sell it. They are hoping someone will step forward to buy it who will support their continued use of the property. Bill Husa — Enterprise-Record

 

Chico >>After seven years of growing as a community, it feels like a scythe is hovering over the GRUB Cooperative.

Growing Resourcefully Uniting Bellies is an intentional community at 1525 Dayton Road, where dozens of people farm together, host community workshops and hold events that support food education, recycling and communal living. Two weeks ago, members learned they are at risk of being pushed off the land.

Owners are trying to sell the property, and unless a buyer is willing to support GRUB in its vision, it will have to close, said member Monica Bell.

 

The hope is members can generate enough money, perhaps through crowdfunding, to make an offer. Another option is finding someone willing to purchase the property and lease it back to them.

“Can we pull it off and buy it in two months? I don’t have that kind of money in my pockets,” Bell said. “We are communitarians, farmers, mothers and fathers, but we are not skilled in the things we need help with right now.”

They would appreciate anyone’s help with legal aid, agricultural land assessment, real estate or fundraising, she said.

 

Members see GRUB as a vital part of the community, as both a piece of Chico history and agricultural land on the green line. Among its activities include Heartseed Farm, GRUB Grown Nursery, a community garden space, Compassionate Communication classes and Old Spokes Home bike shop.

It’s also been a place for school students to dirty their hands and learn about agriculture during field trips. And produce grown on site is divided among community-supported agriculture memberships, to restaurants and individual buyers, some of who work at the farm in exchange for food.

 

When GRUB first took over the 40-acre farm seven years ago, it started with a multi-year lease, Bell said. It was the vision of a group who biked to an environmental conference in Southern California and returned inspired, farming in backyards until they found a place to live and practice agriculture in a community setting.

“The founders of our community had a real bold and beautiful and courageous vision,” Bell said. “They didn’t try to work out all the details, they just did it.”

After the first lease was up, they were able to renew it on a year-to-year basis. The current lease expires in October and will not be offered for renewal.

 

Operating under a short-term lease for so long, it has always challenging to entice young people to embrace the stewardship model that is GRUB’s philosophy, but the cooperative has still thrived, Bell said.

“It attracts people who are willing to endure,” she said.

And they are not without optimism, investing in long-term crops such as artichokes, asparagus and orchards. Circles of mulch support newly planted baby trees intended to produce acorns and other food staples for the future. Even the goats are a symbol of patience, waiting for a herd to mature instead of breeding as quickly as possible to turn a profit.

 

It’s all part of the “long-term vision” its members have for the property, said Lily Rhoads, who moved to GRUB a year ago after spending a week the prior summer working on the farm.

For now, she and others try to focus as much on the present as unknown future. On Wednesday, members sat in a circle of grass for a meeting, closing with a moment of silence and a song, their harmonious voices sounding out below the trees.

“We will enjoy living this way as long as we can,” Bell said. “We can look other young farmers in the eye and tell them we wouldn’t trade it for anything.”

 

The clucks of chickens in moveable fence sounded out as they munched bugs and trampled weeds. Some members tended seedlings as others harvested produce, and one member pedaled by on her bike with children in tow, headed to the farmers market.

Some ask why not just find a place for GRUB elsewhere, Bell said, but such sizeable lots, with a viable water source and so close to town are rare to locate, with most already dedicated to monoculture crops or left vacant in hopes of nonagricultural development.

 

The property has a main home that dates back a century, a guest house and stables. What hasn’t been converted to gardens or orchards includes the bike shop, mobile intern housing, a solar-powered shower and greenhouses.

The property was assessed last year for $638,453, but Bell expects the sellers may want more.

GRUB pays $4,000 a month to rent the land. Sixteen adults and up to six children live there are any given time.

“To me, it’s so inclusive and safe. The pace of life is a little slower, people can really tune in and connect,” Rhoads said.

 

If members could secure a long-term lease, their potential is limitless, they say. Dreams include hedgerows and hoop houses and pump investments, as well as increased opportunities for visitors to share in the experience.

As optimistic as members are, the possibility of an end has been difficult, causing both sadness and grief, Bell said. But they also respect whatever the outcome.

“As agrarians, we understand,” Bell said. “If something goes to seed, you still have so many opportunities for new life.”

 

Those wanting to support GRUB can visit grubchico.org or Help Save GRUB on Facebook, or email helpsavegrub@grubchico.org.

Contact reporter Ashley Gebb at 896-7768.