French fries just part of Pomona Grange story

Despite declining numbers, Carroll fraternal group has deep roots

April 23, 1999|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,SUN STAFF

Mention the Pomona Grange to those who never miss the Carroll County 4-H Fair, and they'll immediately think of french fries.

Despite a dwindling membership and a public that has only a hazy idea of what the Grange is about, this fraternal agricultural club comes up strong every year as the exclusive french fry vendor for at least two popular events at the Carroll County Agricultural Center, including Sunday's tractor pull. The big one is the 4-H Fair.

"It's primarily a social organization," said Kenneth Schwarz, a member of the Berrett Grange in south Carroll.

Schwarz, a geologist, works in Baltimore. His wife, a nurse, works in Columbia. They moved to Carroll County 22 years ago and joined the local Grange.

"We thought since we were living in a rural area, we'd just get with it and become Grange members," Schwarz said.

Nationwide, this is Grange Week. The National Grange, based in South Berlin, N.Y., was founded in 1867 by farmers who were concerned that they were being charged unfair prices for transporting their goods. They organized and lobbied successfully for laws that gave them fair rates for rail shipping, and they were instrumental in starting the Rural Free Delivery system through which chicks, bees and even cream could be mailed.

The organization started as a farm club but quickly grew to include people from all walks of life, said Geneva Meeks, a member and officer in the Medford Grange and the Pomona Grange. The focus of the Grange was on family membership and family activities, unlike other organizations that separated men, women and children into subgroups.

Carroll County once had dozens of Granges, but only two remain, Berrett Grange and Medford Grange. Together, as a countywide group, they are called the Pomona Grange. The membership of the Pomona Grange is about 60, said Herbert Pletcher of Taneytown, master of the Pomona Grange.

Schwarz, with his 12-member group of mostly older people in Berrett, is worried about the organization's surviving into the 21st century, but Pletcher is optimistic.

"One of our slogans is `A new century, a new Grange,' " Pletcher said.

Membership remains strong in some other parts of the East and Midwest, but the Carroll groups are more than 90 percent "older adults," he said.

Schwarz said that phenomenon is not unique to the Grange. The same applies to other social clubs, he said.

"Both adults in the home are working, and they get their adult companionship at work," Schwarz said. "They get home and they want to watch TV. A lot of us who commute are exhausted by the time we get home."

Despite the relatively small and older membership, the Grangers spring into action when it's time to sell french fries. Everybody helps out, as do a few non-Grange volunteers.

Visitors can buy sandwiches, burgers and hot dogs at the main concession booth at the Agricultural Center. But if they want fries, they have to go to the Grange booth, where volunteers will have cooked 900 pounds of potatoes in 40 gallons of peanut oil by the end of the tractor pull. For the fair, they will fry about three tons of potatoes, Meeks said.

Pub Date: 4/23/99

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