“Talk on bloat in livestock. Discussion on how to make things convenient for the housekeeper. Also there were some other interesting discussions. The lunch was enjoyed by all.” – Meeting notes, Mt. Lookout Grange, Mancos, Colorado, May 25, 1919 (the local organization’s inaugural year).
Now plow forward just south of 100 years. As many as 60 people could be showing up within the hour for a community dinner in the very same building on the corner of Grand Avenue and N. Spruce Street. Ten-year-old Lizzy White is trying to puzzle out how to cover six long folding tables with four time-tested tablecloths. Adults are in the kitchen, elbow deep in the evening’s offerings, feeling the heat of the pressing deadline.
“Put the tables end to end,” an anonymous voice calls from the kitchen.
With that problem solved, Lizzy promptly sets up her Girl Scout cookies.
Tonight, dinner is being served at the Mt. Lookout Grange. Friends will catch up. Announcements will be made. And dinner will be enjoyed by all.
Around 1864, following a failed career as a farmer (drought), and an Indian trader (guilty conscience), Bostonian Oliver Hudson Kelley had an idea. Now working for the federal government in the Department of Agriculture, Kelley was commissioned to do a survey of farming conditions in the South. Apparently Kelley was appalled by what he saw. Details remain a mystery, but Kelley, prior to his trip, had entertained the idea of an organization of farmers for self-improvement; a fraternal order patterned after the Masons with one glaring exception: women would be allowed. With the help of a colleague, he founded The Grange of the Patrons of Husbandry in 1867.
There was a time when a simple conversation demanded immediate proximity. Farming was lonely. A trip to church amounted to a social engagement. So enters The Grange as a social hub for the rural set. Only later did it become a political force following the Panic of 1873, originally known as the Great Depression long before the other Great Depression came along. It was a place to learn how to be a good housekeeper (see above), talk bloat, pay respects to the deceased, catch up with your neighbor or learn about French culture.
“Ms. Giselle Eberling of French descent spoke on life in France and customs of the country,” – Meeting notes, Mt. Lookout Grange, Mancos, Colorado, August 2, 1962.
Following a lull in activity, the grange movement is now experiencing a resurgence in Mancos and across the country. “We had a thirty-year hiatus,” says Harrison Topp, one of the people behind the newly-revived Mt. Lookout Grange in Mancos. Topp has a throwback look. Suspenders. Work pants and a well-worn snappy shirt. Lace-up railroad boots. Circa 1919.
Three to four hours before dinner, Topp and his crew start preparing the food – much of it donated – in the small kitchen adjacent to the fluorescently lit no-frills dining room. “I am convinced the fluorescents chase people away,” Liz Bohm says, her tongue planted in her cheek while managing some Berto Farm sausage sizzling in a pot over the harvest gold-colored electric stove. “We need new lighting.”
Frankly, they need new a lot of things, including tablecloths, but they make it work. Fifty people show up at 5:30 sharp for the sausage, beans, green chili chicken, spaghetti squash with tomato sauce, beet and carrot slaw, corn bread and homemade sweets all created and donated by the community, including Viking Chicks, P&D Grocery, Confluence Farms, Lil’ Bit Farm and Fahrenheit Coffee Roasters.
“The Grange is a place where people who might not ever cross paths are crossing paths,” Bohm notes. “The experience of eating together can be very powerful.”
Cindy Greer, a 40-year veteran of the Marvel, Colorado, grange, knows this to be true. Nothing much has changed since she joined in 1970. “In February, we had a luau with Hawaiian foods and we had 80 people attend,” Greer says. It can somehow prove comforting to learn that a town the size of Marvel (try to find it on a map) can draw a crowd for a rural luau in the dead of a Colorado winter. “It is about socializing, coming together and sharing ideas with your neighbors.”
In addition to Marvel and Mancos, Southwest Colorado supports the Florida Grange in Durango, and the Mt. Allison Grange near Ignacio. Active and dormant granges dot the landscape from Grand Junction to Lewis.
The Mt. Lookout meal has the vibe of a traditional Sunday dinner. It feels like family time. These are farm people. You can tell by the well-worn Carhartts, the cowboy hats, the beards, the dirt on the boots. But mostly from the common language.
“Travis picked up a new goat today,” Gabe Deall says to nobody in particular.
“ I heard, Giovanni,” Paul Brewer replies.
“I guess Carmelita is going to be having babies,” Gabe concludes. Giovanni and Carmelita being goat names and apparently not farmer names.
Brewer, along with his wife, Andrea, moved from Denver to Mancos a month ago. “Things like this are why we are here,” Paul says. Andrea calls her time volunteering in the grange kitchen her “karma yoga.” “We wanted to add something to the community besides traffic,” she explains.
An annual membership at the Mt. Lookout Grange is $36 (seemingly a standard fee across the grange-nation). For this, you get a free monthly dinner (donations are appreciated). But you also can get general farming classes, seed saving workshops, maybe a mushroom class or Spanish. Grange members can also rent the building for $10 a day. That is not a misprint.
The evening is wrapped up with announcements. And while there is no plan for any housekeeping workshops, there are calls for action.
“We need pots and pans,” Gretchen Groenke, the community health organizer for Montezuma County and an active Mancos granger, says. Nobody mentions the tablecloth deficit. Barbara Rousseau promotes her yoga class (a small fee, some of which is donated right back to the grange). Groenke reminds people of the Spanish class.
“It’s free?” asks the yoga teacher.
“It’s free,” Groenke replies. “Come, it’s fun.”
Topp calls for people to grab a sack and take home some leftovers. Several take immediate action.
“Any other announcements?” Groenke asks.
“Yes,” Lizzy White says. “Buy Girl Scout cookies.”