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Around The Grange
Homer, Alaska Grange gets helping hand

By Naomi Klouda, Homer Tribune, Alaska (1/18/11)

  JANUARY 29, 2011 --

The fact that rural people receive free mail delivery likely is taken for granted these days. Getting it started came about thanks to an organization called the Grange.

Electricity to each home? The Grange helped make it happen in communities across the country.

Nowadays, the 144-year-old organization founded at the end of the Civil War is working on gaining broadband Internet for rural Americans.

It also keeps to its original agricultural focus. That means its youngest member in the state of Alaska – the Homer Grange – is getting a historic and knowledgeable helping hand with its goal to one day achieve food independence and other programs.

“Everybody’s got to eat. That’s why you won’t see us stray from our agricultural roots as an organization,” said Rusty Hunt, the National Grange membership-leadership director, who made a visit to Homer from Washington D.C. He was joined by Alaska Grange President John Poirrier and Homer Grange’s Michael Neece and Wes Schacht for a variety of business tasks last week.

Only a year old, the Homer Grange is completing eligibility requirements for 501(k) status as a nonprofit. The group of about 36 members is at work on the Homer Coordinated Transportation Plan, gardening projects and the goal to achieve broadband. The group is also interested in clean water issues, such as how best to lobby for protections when development projects arise on the scale of Pebble or Chuitna.

“One of our priorities is to further educate others in the community as to how they can become involved and share their own concerns and ideas,” Neece said.

Though it is called Homer Grange No. 13, there are only six other active Alaska Grange groups. The oldest in Palmer was established in 1936. North Pole, North Star (Fairbanks), Anchorage, Slikok Creek (Kenai) and Two Rivers Grange (Chena Hot Springs) also have active granges.

The process varies for groups around the state, but they each have information to help build a network, said Poirrier, bolstered by the networking power of consulting one another and with the national organization.

The Fairbanks Grange worked with the borough to clean and refurbish an old park in the downtown core. The park had become rundown, trafficked by indigents and drug dealers. “Now it’s a park that everyone can use,” Poirrier said.

At Chena Hot Springs, the owner of the Chena Hot Springs lodge has a self-sustaining operation. “He grows his own vegetables, supplies his own heat and is working toward complete sustainability,” Poirrier said.

The Homer group is focused on benefiting local residents in a number of ways through the Homer Sustainability movement. The group is hoping to gain more members to fill specific roles that are created under the national structure. At the March meeting, they will elect new officers.

Not accidently the Grange was founded in 1867, at the end of the Civil War when the country was in disarray. The agricultural director at the time needed to get into a hostile south to access farming needs, Hunt said.

“He came back and said ‘government is not going to be able to fix it. We’re going to have to have communities working with communities, individuals with individuals in order to heal,’” Hunt recounts.

The National Grange is the nation’s oldest national agricultural organization, with grassroots units established in 2,700 local communities in 40 states. Its 200,000 members provide service to agriculture and rural areas on a wide variety of issues, including economic development, education, family endeavors, and legislation designed to assure a strong and viable Rural America. Over the past years, it has evolved to include non-farm rural families and communities.

The local Grange meets the second Thursday of each month, at 6 p.m., after light snacks at Bunnell Street Gallery. President Michael Neece can be reached at 299-2506 or Wes Schacht at 299-7470.

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