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Grooving Grange

May 4, 2011

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May 4, 2011 Kaleidescope. Grovving at the Grange.

Does it really matter if we forget how to feed ourselves? Won't there always be great big box stores out there to sell us our mega-sized lettuce bags or a drive-thru ethnic food chain to cook us our soy-cellulose-infused beef tacos? These assumptions and the underlying question are significant ones - especially in light of upcoming rises in fuel prices, which in turn affect the cost, quality and availability of food, and our overall ability to sustain ourselves. For some local residents, new world problems are sending them looking for old-fashioned, forward-thinking solutions that support food security. Call this new movement - a return to the Grange. What, you ask, is a Grange? That, as it turns out, is a very interesting question and one that the current growing membership of the Rockford Grange on Barrett Drive is ready to answer. One of the founding members of Rockford Grange, Lucille Wyers, is first up to share her wisdom on "grangers" after 67 years as a member, having served as Grange Master for 10 of those years. "Personally, I live a simple life. I grow my own food and preserve it for the winter. It's a very sensible way to live," said Wyers. But, there's more to the Grange than just learning the ways of growing and preserving food in time honored ways. The Grange is also a place where practices are backed up with policies through grass-roots organizing. The Grange was a populist movement that formed in opposition to monopolistic corporate capitalism, commercialized agriculture and the rampant political corruption in the later half of the 19th century. "If people get together and share ideas in a democratic way, you can solve problems," said Wyers. And she should know. Wyers and her husband, Teunis, were originally drawn to the Grange in order to support a rural electrification project, around the time that Bonneville Dam was just beginning to produce power. "Without the work of my departed husband and Walter Wells at the Grange, we would not be now enjoying the low electricity rates that we do," said Wyers. Beyond power policies, grangers have prioritized improving or protecting other aspects of rural life and community sustainability. Today, at the Rockford Grange, those objectives include creating connections which support local food producers and family farms; offering country living classes which teach newcomers home gardening, composting, food preparation and preservation skills; providing space for an organic-local food buying cooperative; renting facilities for homeschoolers, community groups and small faith organizations; and facilitating ongoing country dance and square dance gatherings. Two other Hood River granges, Pine Grove and Parkdale, also maintain memberships which support sustainability practices. Rockford Grange is attracting some added support from members of the Gorge Grown farmer's market who are now revitalizing the group's membership. "Our goal is to stay a community center for the thoughtful process of sustainability planning," said Tom Penchoen, current Rockford Grange Master. The Rockford Grange is housed in a lovely historic building now owned by West Side Fire Department, which features beautiful hardwood floors and a stage - perfect for hosting regular square dances and popular monthly country dances (on the second Saturday, September through June) featuring live music from The Mill Street String Band. Current county dance coordinator Tom Hons credits the Mid-Columbia Folk Society members, including Keith and Karen Harding, Sally Donovan and Tim and Laurie Southworth, for establishing and maintaining the country dances, which started in 1990. "It's really amazing to see the younger and older generations dancing together. You see this big smile when someone tries it who has never done it before," said Karen Harding. The informal country dances are family-friendly and require no experience, as each dance is taught just before it is performed. They represent just one of the grangers' efforts to support rural community-building. Gene and Bonnie Wright, longtime Rockford members, continue their lifelong tradition of "official" square dancing, keeping the floors of the grange hall in tip-top, well-used shape. "We dance with a Plus Club from dancers around the area," said Gene Wright, former Grange Master. "The square dancers were the ones who kept the granges alive for a long time, doing all the building maintenance. We've got one of the best square dance floors and acoustic qualities in the U.S." The country living classes, established by current Rockford Grange secretary Linda Short, are designed to share wisdom from skilled gardeners, home canners, gourmet cooks, homesteaders and others working on sustainability and food security, with new audiences. Classes are offered through Hood River Community Education, and can be signed-up for through the online catalog. Classes are often held at the grange building. Remaining classes for the year include seed saving, sprouting techniques, food fermentation, fall/winter crop planning and storage, pie making, canning club, Mexican food basics, sausage making, winter gardening and Thai cooking. In conjunction with the Country Living series, OSU Extension also offers sustainability and food security classes. What many people don't realize is that the national Grange movement helped establish the Extension Service. The historical impact of the Grange movement has been significant and includes legislation that created agricultural experiment stations, the Pure Food and Drug Act, Federal Farm Credit and rural mail delivery. The Grange has consistently promoted conservation practices and forestry protection, wildlife protection, better highways, inland waterway improvement, healthy soils and peace and goodwill among nations. "They've done a lot of good things," said Wanda Taylor, Rockford secretary from 1991 to 2008. "You have to get involved to really get the most out of it." Whether you plan on attending a class or the next upcoming country dance (May 14 at 7 p.m.), Rockford invites you to put your ideas on sustainability to work alongside of others. To help pay the musicians, dances are $7 for adults and $1 for children. Teens are $2, but no one is turned away for lack of funds. If you'd like more information or just want to take a peek inside to see the wonderful dance floor, contact Tom Pencheon at 541-386-7998, or join the open house May 14 at 4:30 p.m. The grange is located at 4262 Barrett Drive at the corner of Markham Road.

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