Across rural America stand numerous Grange halls. Once the social center of the community, many Grange halls now stand empty, fading into history along with the sense of agricultural community they fostered.
The Four States Agriculture Exposition hopes to revive that spirt of community this year with a newly revitalized Grange program geared toward every level of producer.
The Grange movement began after the Civil War to promote ways to rejuvenate war-ravaged agricultural lands and industries, according to the expos website. The Grange evolved to become a community center that fostered the interchange of ideas and agricultural literacy. That is precisely the goal of the ag expos Grange, said Elizabeth Testa, executive director of the event.
Our feeling is there is a tremendous amount of information out there on the producer side and curiosity on the consumer side, Testa said. The Grange is our way of bringing together the experienced with the new. Hopefully, it will all come together to provide everyone a better sense of the elements that go into the making of our food and fiber and also tap the tremendous experience and knowledge base that we have in our producers.
Expo organizers have experimented with Grange-style events before, but never to the scale of this years Grange.
We really have an ambitious Grange program this year, Testa said. It is a bringing together for the sake of education and appreciation.
In order to gauge the types of lectures and activities that would best serve the regions, Testa spent a good deal of time speaking with area residents. It was hard to pare down the list of possible presenters, she said.
There are unlimited options in this area, Testa said. We talked to the producers and equipment dealers and said: What would you like to know? What would you like your consumers to know? We talked to small-scale producers and asked what areas they are interested in expanding. We covered the whole range.
Based on feedback, Testa assembled a wide range of speakers for the program.
Large producers likely will benefit the most from Dawn Thilmanys presentation titled Fresh Approaches to Ag Marketing. Thilmany is a professor at Colorado State University.
We really heard that there is a sense that there are many able producers out there who could really use some help learning how to market themselves better, Testa said. With all the 21st century social networking possibility that exists, there is a lot of marketing options beyond the press release.
Smaller producers might be interested in a session on poultry basics led by local producer Cathy Kennedy, owner of Down2Feathers Started Poultry. The session will describe how Kennedy prepares for and raises a new batch of chicks from delivery to sale at six weeks.
There is an amount of interest in the area and curiosity about building a poultry processing plant, Testa said. So there really is a growing interest in local poultry.
A session on increasing productivity through the use of greenhouses should attract small-acreage producers, Testa said. The session will be led by John Wickman, owner of Pine River Plants in Bayfield and Native Roots Garden Center in Durango.
Gordon Tooley, the keynote Grange speaker, will lead a discussion about heritage orchards. Tooley, owner of Tooleys Trees, will focus on the preservation, propagation, and distribution of varieties of fruits now considered heirloom and historical. The lecture fits nicely with a growing local desire to protect diversity and variety in the plant world, Testa said.
Along with Tooleys presentation, orchard enthusiasts will be able to take advantage of sessions on orchard management and a hands-on grafting workshop led by Jude Schuenemeyer, owner of Let It Grow.
Other sessions include Growing Roots Panel: Challenges and Successes for the New Generation of Farmers, Cooks and Food Activists; a Colorado AgrAbility discussion of resources of the physically challenged farmer or rancher; a presentation by the Montezuma Land Conservancy; a presentation on private land stewardship; and a presentation by Nancy Irlbeck titled Are You a Future Dr. Doolittle? A Newcomers Guide to Livestock Ownership.
Testa hopes the Grange program will lead to a more expansive spirit of ag community and conversation in the area.
Agriculture touches us all, and we are using the Grange to draw in all those interest areas, she said. There are still some very small, very local functioning Grange halls trying to keep that Grange spirit alive, and I would love to see the ag expo foster that kind of ag community.
The Four States Ag Expo runs from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. today, Friday and Saturday and from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sunday. Tickets can be purchased at the gate. Admission is $5 for adults. Youths 15 and under are free. Four-day passes cost $15.
For information on specific Grange events or a detailed schedule, visit www.fourstatesagexpo.com or call 247-0097.
Reach Kimberly Benedict at [email protected]