Growing a community at the Grange

Reborn Mt. Lookout Grange thrives as a space for events

The Mt. Lookout Grange, which had been the heartbeat of the community, has come into its own again in the past year.

In May last year, Patricia Burk and Betsy Harrison decided to relaunch the local Grange, which had been closed since the mid-1980s.

Now the group has an active membership of about 70.

"I didn't realize people were so hungry for community," said Burk, who is now a member of the executive committee.

The Grange is a nonprofit fraternal organization formally known on the national level as The National Grange of the Order of Patrons of Husbandry. As the name implies, it is an agricultural- and family- centered group.

Over the past year, the local Grange has been fulfilling its mission with monthly community dinners, food preservation activities and speakers.

Burk and Harrison saw the potential for the building to be used by the community after the Mancos Head Start class vacated the building. However, they didn't expect for it to flourish.

"There's been just overwhelming response to everything we've done," Burk said.

Burk grew up with the Grange and says she can remember playing there when she was 4 years old. She said she is pleased to see it drawing families with young children.

While the average age of American farmers is nearing 60, younger people in the Mancos Valley are getting back to the earth, and the Grange has given them a place to come together, said Harrison, the Grange treasurer.

The free community dinners have also helped draw people to the group.

"The dinners have a great feeling - it brings all kinds of people together," Harrison said.

On average, the dinners draw about 60 people, but the most recent dinner drew about 80 people. The group expects seating to expand outside during the summer.

Gretchen Groenke, a community health organizer with Live Well Montezuma, and Americorps volunteer Harrison Topp brought the idea to the group.

The community dinners recently expanded to Cortez.

Harrison also credits Topp with helping to draw in the younger members.

Part of the organization's strength has been offering a space for people in the community to host events.

The Grange is home to yoga and meditation classes, as well as classes on growing and using mushrooms among other events.

The Grange hopes to continue to expand with a demonstration garden as well as a Junior Grange for children under 14.

Monthly meetings are held on the first Monday, at 6 p.m., and community dinners are n the second Sunday at 5:30 p.m.