A Durango woman has been selected to help a national organization resuscitate rural granges for the 21st century.
Elizabeth Hiner, who is a member of Florida Grange No. 306, was accepted into the National Grange’s Communication Fellows Class of 2017, which will take her on an eight-day program to learn how to best promote granges.
Hiner participated in the 150th annual National Grange Convention in Washington, D.C., last November, so she’s entering her second go-around to train for the position.
“I wanted to be a part of the Fellows program again so I could hone the skills I learned last year to improve our grange and other local granges to be more viable in an urban environment,” she said. “It is an honor to be a part of the nationwide team and to tell the story of the grange over our 151 years.”
Granges were originally founded in the 1800s as a way for farmers and ranchers to meet in rural areas and talk about the needs of the agricultural community.
“It was farmers getting together to help farmers,” Hiner said.
But over the years, participation in granges across the country has drastically decreased as the agricultural community ages and ways of communication change, she said.
But instead of letting granges go the way of the buffalo, many who live in rural areas are trying to reinvent what a grange is and how it serves its community.
“Now it’s more a community service-based organization,” Hiner said. “We put on free breakfasts, hold free dinners, sponsor food drives. Really anything just to bring the community together.”
Nationally, there are active granges in 26 states. Across Colorado, there are 41 active granges.
In La Plata County, there are six granges, though only four are active – Florida, Marvel, Mount Allison and Animas Valley. Granges in Breen and Oxford have not seen local participation in some time.
These days, Hiner said, members of granges can range from the young to old. The Florida Grange has about 30 members, and the Marvel Grange has about 50 members.
But Hiner’s task is to see those numbers grow.
“We’ve been trying to revitalizing it with new memberships,” she said.
Hiner’s training includes communications, writing for the media, social media management, as well as audio and video skills. Grange fellows also learned event planning and program development.
“Elizabeth is enthusiastic and someone who gets things done,” Colorado State Master Cindy Greer said in a prepared statement. “Last year, she came back with great excitement, ideas and skills, and I think this year as a leader among the group, she will find even more confidence and hone her skills.”
Hiner is originally from Greeley, but did not get involved in granges until 2013 when she and her husband, Dean, a Durango native, moved back to the area. At Dean’s aunt’s urging, the couple joined the 151-year-old Florida Grange.
“I just loved it ever since,” she said. “It’s somewhere to interact with other people and be a part of the community.”