The Rocky Mountain Grange is in the process of reinventing itself as a once-again relevant community asset, and members Gretchen Langton and Erin Belmont are helping the Grange to realize that goal.
Granges started after the Civil War, in response to the Industrial Revolution and the rise of Big Business. Farmers had trouble getting their products to market so they organized among themselves.
The Grange, officially named The National Grange of the Order of Patrons of Husbandry, is a social organization in the United States that encourages families to band together to promote the economic and political well-being of the community and agriculture, according to Wikipedia. The Grange, founded in 1867, is the oldest American agricultural advocacy group with a national scope. The Grange actively lobbied state legislatures and Congress for political goals, such as the Granger Laws to lower rates charged by railroads, and rural free mail delivery by the Post Office.
The Grange movement was hugely popular in rural areas of the country, with national membership as high as 875,000 in 1875. In 2005, the Grange had a membership of 160,000, with organizations in 2,100 communities in 36 states. It is headquartered in Washington, D.C., in a building built by the organization in 1960. Many rural communities in the United States still have a Grange Hall and local Granges still serve as a center of rural life for many farming communities.
Today, with fewer big ranches and farms in the Bitterroot Valley, and the older generation of ranchers and farmers now retired, many of the smaller tracts are owned by young families. The Rocky Mountain Grange is trying to focus more on that demographic.
Granges started as grassroots organizations, and Langton says that part is not going to change. “We want to revive the Grange and highlight non-profits and people who need help – like with food insecurity – or people who want to farm but need support.”
Langton said they came up with an idea to combine some groups to benefit them all. To that end, she and Belmont have organized a concert series, with four different musical groups featured over four months. Each concert will also have a potluck meal. Beer and wine will be available. And, each concert will be paired with a local non-profit.
“The Grange is a great community resource,” says Belmont, who currently serves as president. “It’s a really great building, a place to gather and network and have community events. Our Grange was started in about 1933. The grange is a fraternal organization but it’s really welcoming and supportive of the community. That’s its whole purpose. This is a community grange. It’s really meant to serve its community and whatever needs the community has. I’m a recent president and I’m learning a lot from the members that have been here a long time and trying to learn how to best serve the community.”
Belmont said that she has learned much from Scott Nicholson, who’s been involved with the Corvallis Grange and the State Grange for almost 50 years. “The people who got involved really stuck with it,” said Belmont. “It becomes a family.”
Belmont said she also met with Marilyn Johnson, state Grange president. “She was fantastic,” said Belmont. “The state Grange is really supportive of younger folks coming up and getting interested. They want to revive the Junior Grange too. She’s really excited about seeing a community want to get some things going.”
“It does have its roots in agriculture,” said Belmont, “small communities coming together to advocate for themselves and their livelihoods.
Communities these days seem to be lacking this connection. And checking in on neighbors. We’re trying to build that with our Grange right now.”
Belmont said that in November they had a “revival harvest party.” Erin owns House of Ferments. “I’m part of the local food scene,” she said. “I work with a lot of local farms and farmers. I invited them and we had 42 people become members of the Grange that evening. Really, we’re all involved with food, producers or consumers. This is hopefully a way that we can network and support each other in our community and share resources. By doing that our chance of being successful increases.”
“We’ll create community, raise money for a non-profit, and help musicians who have really suffered during the pandemic,” said Langton.
The first event will be this Friday, February 25 from 5 to 9 p.m. The potluck will start at 5 p.m. with the music from 6 to 9 p.m. “Parts & Labor” will provide the music, a blend of classic rock, blues and originals. Admission is by donation. The featured non-profit is Family Shelter of the Bitterroot. There will be a short presentation about Family Shelter and donations will be taken for that organization, and people will be able to sign up to volunteer.
On March 11, Shane Clouse will be the featured performer and Stevensville FFA will be the featured non-profit.
On April 8, it’s “Champagne Sunday,” a duo from Washington, and the Bitter Root Humane Association will be the featured non-profit. Langton said they will have dogs available for adoption, and people can donate money, dog food and dog toys.
Tom Catmull will be the featured performer on May 20 and O’Hara Commons will be the featured non-profit.
Any money raised will go to the non-profit and to pay the band. Anything beyond that will go to the Grange. Langton said people will also be able to become members of the Grange at the events and all are family-friendly.
Langton said they will take the summer months off and resume programming in the fall.
“Because of the pandemic,” said Langton, “we’ve been struggling with community. This is a great building and a wonderful space. Come on out and have some fun with your friends and neighbors.”
The Rocky Mountain Grange is located on the south side of Hamilton at 1436 S. 1st. Langton said that the Grange hall is available for rent and anyone interested in holding an event there can call 274-0247 or 544-8586 for details.
Belmont said the Grange has a motto she particularly likes: “In essentials, unity; in non essentials, liberty; and in all things, charity.”
“I really like that as a motto,” said Belmont. “It doesn’t matter who you are when you step into the Grange hall, we are all working towards helping others in our community who have a need.”