There are 140 active granges in Maine.
In October, some of the 5,000 members gathered for their annual state convention in Skowhegan.
This was the 140th session of the Maine State Grange.
As Joy Hollowell found out, this year’s president is making history.
“I joined the grange when I was 15,” says Vicki Huff. “I belonged to the same grange all my life. My parents belonged and my grandparents belonged, so I’m a third generation granger.”
But Huff is the first woman to be elected master of the Maine State Grange.
“Yes, it’s taken us a 140 years to get here,” Huff says with a laugh.
Ironic too, she adds, considering the grange is known for including women.
“Women in the grange had the same rights, privileges that men did at a time when women couldn’t vote,” explains Janice Boomsma with the Valley Grange. “She couldn’t be mayor of her town, but she could be master of her grange and that was a bid deal in those days.”
In fact, out of the 13 officers in the grange, four positions can only be held by women.
While Huff is happy to make history, she has concerns about the number of Maine grangers, or lack of. In the last few years, the grange has lost an average of about 200 members annually.
“We’ve slowed down the decline significantly, but there’s still a decline,” says Huff. “We can’t say we have a net gain in our membership. I’d like to see that change.”
Huff admits there’s no magic formula but says changing perception is a starting point.
“I think the thought process has been, if we let the young folks in, they’re going to do all of these things that we don’t think they should and that’s not the case, because young people can do good things and they have great ideas,” Huff says. “We need to reach out to them and say, there’s something here for you, something that can include the whole family.”
Huff also believes granges that find their niche in the community, like the Wayside Grange and Theater in Dexter, will thrive.
“In all honesty, 30 years ago, they were saying the grange wasn’t going to be here now. And we’ve proven that wrong,” says Huff. “I do believe that the grange has a purpose and that we can be here in 50 years, 150 years. We just have to find a way to make people realize what the grange really does.”
At the annual convention, awards for yearly achievements were handed out to granges and individuals. Plaques were also presented to the Grange Farm Family of the Year and the Tree Farmer of the Year.
If you like more information on granges, you can call 1-800-464-3421