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Around The Grange
Community attends Riverton Grange Fair on farming traditions
 

By N.F. Ambery (Register Citizen / Houston Chronicle Online / Hearst Media)

  AUGUST 19, 2018 --

The Grange’s importance in U.S. history has sometimes been overlooked in recent times but is still celebrated on the local level, including at the Riverton Grange.

During a sunny, 80-degree day, the town celebrated the indoor 29th annual Riverton Grange Fair from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday with an estimated 30 visitors at the Grange Hall at 9 Riverton Road. The fair featured prize-winning vegetables, baked goods, flowers, plants and photographs — showcasing the best in town. Older folks caught up on news with each other while participating in a raffle while children busied themselves with their own educational activities.

Riverton Grange No. 169 secretary Raine Pedersen, 63, said, “The weather kept some away but people showed up today.”

Pedersen said there were 40 entries in the Grange’s photography exhibit. Grange Photography Chairman Dave Roberts added that the regular Grange and Junior Grange’s color and black-and-white photos were judged by an outside photography expert. “The criteria was that the maximum size could be 8½ by 11,” Roberts said. “People took some photos on cell phones and printed them with their computers.”

Pedersen said she joined the town’s Junior Grange in 1962 when she was 6 years old as was the tradition among her family and friends. Her parents were active in the Grange in the 1950s and 1960s. Her five siblings joined as well. “I was very young when I joined,” she said. “I was in the Junior Grange. Everybody in the neighborhood was in it. It is still a nice group of people.”

Pedersen said there are plenty of activities in the Grange to keep children occupied. Aside from the agricultural programs, kids saw musicians playing their own instruments and took part in Halloween parties. “My favorite activity was the ‘mystery drive,’” she said. “We had to find 12 items and visit people’s homes in the community in order to find them.”

Pedersen added that the children who had joined with her then are still active in the Grange today. “The members today are colleagues I have known since Day One,” she said. “They are members from Riverton and Barkhamsted.”

Pedersen noted that activities the Grange hosts, like the Chili Cook-Off in March 2017, had netted two new members as well as a greater awareness of the group. “It brought a lot of people in,” said Pederson.

It was recently reported in this newspaper that Connecticut had a 15 percent increase in beginning farmers between the two most recent U.S. agricultural censuses — second only to Rhode Island. And Connecticut is in rarified company with that statistic as only eight states had recorded increases.

The Riverton Grange is a part of a longtime national rural movement that has experienced ups and downs throughout the decades. Riverton, the historic district of the town of Barkhamsted, was once a 19th-century industrial village that started in small settlements along the Still River and the East Branch Farmington River.

According to the website United States History at www.u-s-history.com, the Grange movement was started by 1860s Department of Agriculture employee Oliver Hudson Kelley. Kelley had toured the South and had been disturbed by the lack of sound agricultural practices. In 1867, with others, Kelley formed the National Grange of the Patrons of Husbandry, in order to learn how to grow as citizens and leaders. Local affiliates were called “granges” and members (whose minimum age is 14) were called “grangers.”

At Saturday’s Grange Fair, Pedersen, with a local Riverton couple, Jason and Teresa Fuller of Riverton’s Grassy Knoll Farm, gave presentations through the day on sheep at a table near the Grange Hall’s front door. The Fullers raise babydoll Southdown sheep. Pedersen discussed the care and feeding of the livestock as well as scrapie, a fatal, degenerative nervous system disease that causes chronic wasting in sheep and goats.

Pedersen, who started raising two Finnsheep and one lamb since April, said, “We take visitors through the fleecing and wool process. My sheep couldn’t be here today because they are too skittish. One is 7 months old, the others 3 years old.”

Pedersen said she was inspired to raise sheep after she had a vision several years back. The vision inspired her to do research along with her late father, who had raised goats.

Pedersen said the sheep display fits into the tradition of previous Grange Fair educational presentations, which included such topics as beekeeping, gardening and making maple syrup.

At Saturday’s local Riverton Grange event, Grange member Phil Prelli flipped hamburgers in the kitchen for the Grange’s lunchtime crowd.

Prelli, 69, who was elected in November 2017 as vice president of the nationwide organization of the National Grange of the Order of Patrons of Husbandry (spanning a 50-year Grange career), said, “The number of entries in fruit and plants is less this year because of the previous rain, which brought critters.”

Dennis Jasmine, 71, of Falls Village agreed with Prelli, adding that the weather had affected his farm’s hay production as well. “The corn is doing well,” he pointed out.

Prelli said he joined the Junior Grange as a 14-year-old and, though as an adult pursued a career in the insurance industry, had worked as a teenager for his grandparents’ farm. “What is nice about the small grange fairs is that it brings back agricultural and farming,” Prelli said.

The Riverton Grange, organized in 1908, currently has 88 members, but a core group of 20 who are regularly active at events. Grange elections are held every two years. The Riverton Grange holds regular meeting on the first Friday of each month at 7:30 p.m.; open meetings at the Grange Hall are held on the third Friday of each month at 6:30 p.m.

Prelli said that an issue he is tackling in his current position is improving rural broadband service.

“Rural broadband is an issue,” he said. “It is not fair to businesses in rural America if they still have dial-up service.” He referred to an early, antiquated way of accessing the internet. “Large farms in the Midwest have corn to sell, and they lose out online to city businesses because they can’t keep up,” Prelli said. “Also, everything changes so quickly — for example, a business needs to sell its products online and at the right time.”

Previously Prelli had served on the organization’s board of directors as well as the State of Connecticut’s Commissioner of the Department of Agriculture. He pointed out that rural healthcare remains another issue to be in Smalltown America. “There are now telephysicians,” he said.

At the fair’s end, raffle-prize winners and longtime Grange members Bob O’Connor, 88, and Shirley Moore, 93, displayed their winnings (including a wood flute, a jigsaw puzzle, a water jug and candles).

O’Connor said of this year’s fair: “It is great to help out. For 55 years I was active in the organization with my wife.”

Moore, who won a first-prize blue ribbon for her famous homemade donuts in the baked goods division, said of this year’s festivities: “It was a good turnout.”

Open meetings are held at the Riverton Grange Hall at 9 Riverton Road on the third Friday of each month at 6:30 p.m. For more information on the Riverton Grange, e-mail Riverton@CTStateGrange.org.

 
 
 
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