Community

Grange brews up community fun

Chris Williams, founder of Deer Lagoon Grange
Chris Williams, founder of Deer Lagoon Grange's Food Basics series, arranges produce for the Grange's display at the island County Fair last year.
— image credit: Photo courtesy of Deer Lagoon Grange

Beer lovers and those curious about home beer brewing may be interested in the class Deer Lagoon Grange has on tap for 7 p.m. Tuesday, April 10.

The class, part of an ongoing “Food Basics” series, will feature John Burks, who will discuss how to make traditional ale-type beer at home, using liquid or dry malt extract. Burks will  also demonstrate the equipment needed to get started brewing beer at home. The class is open to the public and there is no charge to attend.

“The speakers donate their time,” said Food Basics organizer Chris Williams. “They may have a small business or they may just be hoping to find other people who share the same interest in a subject.”

Williams started the Food Basics series in 2009, not long after she joined Deer Lagoon Grange. Since then the Grange has hosted classes ranging from bee keeping to fermenting foods and from coupon shopping and canning to foraging for seaweed.

“We’ve got the resources to do these classes and things like food preservation are becoming more popular,” Williams said. “It’s sort of a tryout at no cost.”

Classes are typically held at the Grange the second and fourth Tuesdays of each month, although they take the summer off. The broad subject range is probably because Williams has a variety of interests.

“Most of them I do because I’m having a whim,” she said with a laugh. “I schedule classes about things I find interesting and it seems other people do, too.”

“One thing the Grange has always been about is education, and that’s where Chris’ program fits in,” said Ken Schillinger, Master of Deer Lagoon Grange.

Class sizes have ranged from just over a dozen to more than 100. While members see some familiar faces in attendance, they usually see a lot of new faces each month. They hope the Food Basics series will help generate interest in the Grange itself.

“Fraternal organizations kind of went away for a while, but now they seem to be coming back,” said Chuck Prochaska, Overseer of Deer Lagoon Grange. “People are wanting to reconnect and they’re wanting to learn things.”

Long history

Deer Lagoon Grange has a long history on South Whidbey. First organized in 1926, the Grange met in a building at Bayview Corner. In 1935, the Grange moved to its present location, the former Lone Lake Norwegian Lutheran Church, just over a mile north of Bayview Corner.

Built in 1904, Prochaska said the building has served the Grange well over the years and is an Island County historic site. Floors in the main hall are made of maple salvaged from Fort Casey. But the aging structure has some issues. Grange members are hoping to raise enough money to fix the south wall of the building, which is beginning to bow and sag.

“We’d like to make the building more serviceable for the community,” he said. “There’s an endless list of things, it seems like, and it would be good to be able to get some help. Our membership’s dues and what we make on renting the building generate enough income to pay for our normal expenses, but we’ve got a whole wall that’s dropped and we need to get that fixed.”

Cost of repairs is estimated at $46,500, so the Grange is hoping to raise money for its building fund. Also included in the repairs are adding electrical outlets and installing a new range hood for the kitchen, plus the associated wiring.

Like nearly every organization, members have a vision of what they’d eventually like to see.

“We had plans drawn up for what it could be,” Prochaska said, showing off plans that include additional space off the wing where the kitchen is located. “In my vision, I’d like to someday see a deck and a stairway down to give us easier access to the lower level.”

Distinguished service

As Deer Lagoon Grange members work on ways to earn money for the building repair project, they also have reason to celebrate.

Just in time for Grange month in April, members learned Deer Lagoon was named a Distinguished Grange for 2010-2011. The award is one of just 16 handed out from among 1,000 Granges in 35 states across the nation. The award is based on a Grange’s activity in the community, membership growth and support of Grange programs.

The Washington State Grange has a long history of involvement with legislative issues, including the top-two primary system, but the group is non-partisan.

“We have Democrats, Republicans, Independents and others,” Prochaska said. “We do talk about things of legislative interest, but we are non-partisan and we take a pledge that we won’t ever wrong another member.”

Deer Lagoon Grange has been very active in the community for all of its 85 years, according to Prochaska and Schillinger. The Grange supports the Island County Fair and provides supervisors and stewards each year in categories like baking, honey, grains, fruits and vegetables and composting.

“Our food program is great, as is our Words for Thirds program,” Schillinger said, explaining that Words for Thirds gets dictionaries in the hands of third grade students in the area. Deer Lagoon Grange also has free Wi-Fi and provides computer access by appointment.

The annual Critter Workshop is also popular with South Whidbey children and adults and is held just before the fair as a way to introduce people to food production, preparation and preservation. Grange members are also working with South Whidbey High School in Langley to try to reestablish the National FFA Organization program there.

That’s a lot, considering membership in Deer Lagoon Grange stands at 46. Current members encourage anyone interested to check out the organization. Requirements for membership are simple — you must be at least 13 and a half years old, be an upstanding, law-abiding citizen, and be willing to get involved.

“Sometimes I guess it might seem silly that we host these free events like the food program,” said Prochaska. “But we’re community-minded. When you give, good things happen.”

 

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