At one time, grange halls in Maine were the center of the community.
Farmers and their families gathered for weekly potluck suppers and other events.
But granges have changed in recent years.
These days, most grangers are gardeners not farmers.
And while some granges continue to grow, others are wilting away.
Four years ago, Bangor Grange created the Ohio Street Farmer’s Market.
“We decided that a farmer’s market would be a big thing there in the area, the Capehart neighborhood,” says Rolf Staples, Master of the Bangor Grange. “And right from the first, I decided that we needed EBT to be available at the Farmer’s Market. On some weeks, we actually swiped $1,800 bucks worth of EBT.”
Causes like this are why Staples believes his group is still going strong 112 years later.
“We moved here in 1994 and joined the grange right away because we love it, we just love the grange,” says Mary Annis.
She’s going on 25 years with the grange. Annis’ love for the Valley Grange has managed to rub off on a few others as well.
“When Linda and I moved to Guilford, we met Mary at one of the local stores,” says Bob Carroll. “And we joined the grange as a way of meeting people in the community.”
“Walter and I were brought in by Mary Annis,” says Janice Boomsma, smiling. “She’s very good at that.”
“She said we have this little group,” adds Walter Boomsma. “we don’t just let anyone in, which was kind of a nice hook. We came, tried it out once and felt right at home.”
It’s not uncommon to see young students in the Guilford hall. For the past 12 years, grange members have handed out dictionaries to area third graders.
Community service events like this are why many in the Valley Grange say they stay.
“Every organization tends to have a small core of people who keep things going,” says Walter Boomsma, Program Director, Publicity Director and Treasurer for the Valley Grange. “I think we’re fortunate to have that.”
Maine granges have been around since 1867. Grange Hall Number One can be found in Hampden.
“It started out as a kind of lobbying thing to really help the farmers avoid carpet baggers and things like that,” explains Boomsma. “But it very quickly morphed into a social organization.”
There are still 140 actives granges in the state. Montville recently reactivated its local grange and the West Bath Seaside Grange was created in August.
“The Deer Isle grange was opened in 1888.”
Jeanette Taylor was master of the Deer Isle Grange for 11 years. This past summer, the remaining members voted to surrender their charter.
“The state allows us 13 members or under to close the grange,” explains Taylor. “We only had 6 that were really active and you cannot run potluck suppers and have auctions like we had every year with only 6 people.”
At one time, the deer isle grange was so popular, they created a junior grange for younger members.
“This area from between Ellsworth and Bucksport, there originally was about 10 or 12 different granges. Nowadays, there’s only about 3,” says John Farrell.
Farrell has been a granger for 65 years. He and Taylor joined the Surry Grange recently to keep their membership active.
“And to show you what is happening to the membership, most of the people who were there at that meeting, and there were about 15 or 20 or maybe less than that, most of them were at least my age and some may have been a little older,” says Farrell. “I just turned 90.”
Taylor believes the age gap was a big contributor to closing their grange.
“Unfortunately, a lot of adults have to work two or three jobs because this is a fishing community and they just can’t afford not to work. And so when they come home, they certainly don’t want to go out to another meeting,” she says.
There are 5,000 registered grange members in Maine.