Hundreds of years ago, members of farming communities held town meetings at the local grange hall to discuss their families, their homes and the latest trends in farming. Continuing this tradition, on Nov. 4, Preservation Napa Valley holds a fourth forum in its series, titled "Preservation and a Pint," at the Rutherford Grange.
"We're going to Rutherford to discuss the county's overall identity," says Wendy Ward, director of Preservation Napa Valley. Previous forums have been held at similar historical venues throughout Napa County, where hundreds of people gathered to discuss issues integral to Napa County's agricultural identity, from the pressures of housing development to monocropping.
"The unbelievable turnouts showed a need to continue a dialogue," says Ward. "We encourage anybody and everybody to come. It's fun, and everybody walks away meeting new folks, learning something new and adding their voice to the discussion."
Preservation and a Pint grew from the idea that Napa County residents could explore a different way of communicating with peers, outside the arenas of City Councils and Board of Supervisors meetings. Ward hopes the informal settings are less intimidating and feel accessible. "We wanted to take it away from those places and get into an area with conviviality," Wards says, "to meet people, have a beer and talk about important issues."
One question the forum hopes to address is if Napa County can grow more than just grapes. According to Ward, Napa and its surrounding counties were once known as the largest producers of wheat west of the Mississippi. The traditional county identity as a "bread basket" has gone away, Ward says, uprooted with a desire to methodically produce a luxury good.
The forum includes a panel of Napa County experts, an open-floor layout and beer—yes, it's free—courtesy of Silverado Brewing Company. Ward plays moderator in discussions pitting the panel members against each other, with a Q&A period following, open to everyone with questions. Afterwards, panelists are freely available to talk, just like ordinary people.
"We've brought big leaders of the valley," Ward says, "and made them accessible." The Preservation Napa Valley director hopes the series will continue, bringing further discussion on agricultural development of Napa Valley.
But what happens when all the chatting is over?
"Afterwards, people just hang out. If there's beer left, they just keep drinking beer," says Ward.
Preservation and a Pint is open to the public on Thursday, Nov. 4, at Rutherford Grange.
8550 St. Helena Hwy., Rutherford. 6-7:30pm.