Hesperia Star • Aug. 9, 2012

Chickens squawk and laughter drifts across the desert as children play in the fading sunlight. But they are not just passing time; they are junior members of the High Desert Grange preparing for the 2013 San Bernardino County Fair.

Thanks to help from the Junior Grange, 9-year-old Olivia Finch of Apple Valley competed in her first county fair this year. Finch showed rabbits and secured her first blue ribbon.

“I love my bunnies,” Finch said. Though shy with humans as she shared her ribbons at a monthly Grange meeting, Finch is very happy with animals as she tells of her experience at the fair. “I got two: first and a second.”

The Grange appears to be a family affair at the Finch household. Twin brothers Caden and Bryce plan on showing chickens at next year’s fair. The boys run in circles as they try to catch the birds in their pen.

“Soon it’s our turn,” Bryce said.

The kids think they are just having fun playing with their animals, but mother Jenifer Finch knows the Grange means much more than that.

“I love the Grange,” Jenifer Finch said. “It is the perfect place for my children to grow up in a positive, family-oriented environment.”

The High Desert Grange on Yucca Street and C Avenue in Hesperia is the community branch of the National Grange, a nonprofit founded in 1867 to promote rural America and agriculture. The local Grange was charted in April 1935 to be “patrons of husbandry,” meaning the support and study of crops and animals. However, activities in the Grange are not limited to cows and corn, with members participating in activities ranging from cooking to motorcycle riding.

The local group has struggled to adapt to the urbanization of the area, consolidating from three High Desert chapters down to the one in Hesperia. The High Desert Grange in Hesperia now lists some 50 members — a drastic change from the times when three High Desert chapters boasted at least that many contributors each.

Still, the local Grange proves to be a proponent of agriculture, with member Allie McMahon of Oak Hills sweeping the Grand Champion market calf category at the 2012 San Bernardino County Fair.

“It is a great organization that taught me responsibility, leadership and commitment,” McMahon said. “I think that all young kids and adults should be involved in their local Grange chapter and have the opportunity to help improve and continue the agriculture industry.”

While she acknowledged the High Desert Grange has changed in recent years, Lee Graham, whose family has been Grange members for generations, said it’s not all for the bad.

“The junior members are more committed, which is a big improvement,” Graham said.

Longtime Grange member Susie Grimstead of Apple Valley attributes the strength of the Grange to those junior members.

“It’s all about the kids,” Grimstead said. “They are who we work for.”

When not securing championships, the Grange is often awarded recognition for the commitment of their members to their animals during the fair with clean barn awards.

That commitment carries over to the nonprofit’s Yucca Street hall, which members keep in top shape, as rentals of the hall are a large source of income for the organization. Along with monthly meetings, the Grange hall boasts a variety of events from parties to food banks.

Though the Grange has seen a shift, the organization hopes to regrow its membership and continue promoting husbandry in the High Desert.

“The Grange isn’t going anywhere,” member John Ryan of Apple Valley said.

*Due to copyright agreements story is not shown in its entirety