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Grange practices old values to meet new challenges

By Kevin Maki, KECI Reporter, kmaki@keci.com
Published On: Feb 27 2013 08:46:55 AM MST
Updated On: Feb 28 2013 08:23:11 PM MST
CORVALLIS, Mont. -

For 136 years, the Grange has lobbied for rural interests. For instance, the Grange pushed for those flashing lights you see on the rear of school buses, and free rural mail delivery. It lobbied for rural electrification. There's Grange insurance.

But Granges across the country have closed and memberships have declined. Changing rural needs create new challenges.

"We can help communities change with the times and improve themselves," said Montana state Grange president Scott Nicholson.

Nicholson travels the state and nation representing Montana's rural interests.

The Grange is working to maintain current rural mail delivery service. It's lobbied to  keep rural post offices, medical clinics and hospitals open.

The group also supports broadband internet access for rural communities.

"We have forgotten people that do not have access to those services, regardless of where they live," said Nicolson, "urban or rural."

The local organization was formed by Nicholson's ancestor, Elijah Chaffin in 1874.

Corvallis Grange #17 has scrapbooks filled with clippings and photos bearing testimony of a rich agricultural heritage, and generations of families nurtured by the land.

Alex and Cheri Hartless and their sons, Colter and Cooper are Grange members.

"There seems to be so many things that pull a family apart,"said Cheri,"Grange is founded on family roots and keeping a family together."

Alex thinks its important for his kids to "get their hands dirty," to be able to plant a garden and to raise animals.

The Hartless family raises almost all their food on their small farm near Corvallis. Colter can tell you all about his turkeys.

"These are homegrown turkeys," said Colter. "I respect what they are and what they do."

His little brother Cooper likes his chickens, especially his pet hen Squirty. He spends a great deal of time gathering eggs. The boys are learning lessons from the barnyard to the computer.

Cheri loves the old Grange recipes, passed down from generation to generation. She's impressed with Grange's history of including women in important offices.

Women, said Cheri, held high offices in the Grange since its inception after the Civil War.

"I think that's phenomenal when women didn't have the right to vote until the 1920's," said Cheri.

Most members of Grange #17 aren't fulltime farmers and ranchers anymore.

But the lessons that Elijah Chaffin brought to Corvallis more than 100 years ago haven't gone out of fashion.